While my husband was at the fire station, I took the girls to dinner at their favorite restaurant to kick off the week. They settled in their usual stools and watched the flames light up the kitchen while they waited for "brown noodles" at Pei Wei. Brown noodles (lo mein or any noodle with Asian sauce and a few vegetables not-so-subtly snuck in) were named such as not to be confused with white noodles (fettuccine alfredo), known already to the girls as simply "pasta". Don't try and convince them that there are any other kinds of pasta. The only thing pasta could ever be is fettuccine with alfredo sauce.
Little Girl sat, silently wondering if she'd made the right choice changing her future ambition from Chef to Magician last year. The chefs at Pei Wei casting bright vegetables into and swirling the woks while laughing and singing in an exotic language always try to carry her dreams back to the explorations of the kitchen. Baby Girl was constantly moving yet stayed within a two-foot radius the entire meal- sitting on her legs facing the kitchen, turned to the side with one leg dangling off the stool, sliding off the stool and dancing in a circle, back at counter height with her back to the kitchen sticking her tongue out at other patrons, her belly to the sky as the lays on the stool with both feet hanging low and the longest noodle outstretched and lowering into her tiny gaping mouth...with sound effects. Whatever. They were eating.
Afterwards, we made our usual stops at the outdoor mall next door. A trip to Barnes & Noble helped us finish shopping for a birthday party gift, Little Girl picked out Corduroy and The Gruffalo for her friend, and resulted in another purchase of "Mr. Oliver's" books- this time we picked up a copy of Stuck. Then we headed to the park. It's just a little patch of green with a fabricated stream and a fountain, a small playground, and a train ride that encircles the park. They decided we would ride the train first, then we would hit the playground, and finish at the stream. Right as we arrived, the train was finishing its last trip and both girls were chasing it down, sure to be the first ones in line for the next ride. Both bouncy little creatures waited patiently for the even the smallest and slowest of other kids to exit and clear so they could board. As I handed the conductor a few dollars, I turned to board the car they picked when I felt Little Girls arm slice across my legs. I stopped and looked down, startled. She looked up and said, "No, Mommy. Not you."
Now, I've been known to suffer and recover from plenty of heartbreak in this fallen world. Haven't we all? I've lost and found pieces of my heart in many places- Moonlight Beach in Encinitas, a dressing room in NYC, my first apartment, the back porch of our current home, etc. And in that moment, I added another one to the list: the gum-speckled swath of concrete beneath the train at the mall.
Me: What do you mean, "Not you?!"
Little Girl: Mommy. You stay here. You can't come with us.
Me: What? Of course I can!
LG: No, Mommy. It's just for little kids. You stay here. I don't want you to ride with us.
Me: (swallowing, clenching) Honey, you're not going without me. (leading her to the car and hopping inside)
LG: (silence, back of her head to me, hands gripping the window opening)
Me: Hey. (she turns to me) Do you know why I'm the only parent on the train? Because I still think this is fun. I'm a fun parent! Look! (smiles, points to self) Fun mommy!!
LG: (she blinks and turns away) (sighs) Well, we are going to ride this two times. And next time you aren't coming with us.
Me: Well that isn't happening. I'm sorry. But you're not going on this by yourself.
I guess some day I can try letting them ride alone. But I'm going to have to follow closely behind. Ever since I lost Baby Girl in Disney World for about three minutes, I don't relax when we're in public, ever. (Different story, different day.) They could disappear for any number of reasons at any second whether I'm cautious, or overly-cautious, or not. I choose cautious. I'm not letting anyone load them up in a train and take them out of sight in a busy area without my eyes on it all. I tried to shield her from such worries by throwing in the Fun Mommy line, but it didn't work.
She accepted the single ride and both danced their way to the playground next. Little Girl precariously jumped from roof to roof of the stationary train and Baby Girl stood on a center spring while four other kids tried to bounce her off. I corrected and warned them a few times. Then they were off to the stream. Their favorite part is collecting fallen leaves and conducting a long series of leaf races until each are satisfied with their totals. Up until this trip, it's been a peaceful game. But not today. Baby Girl was swinging on the chains that attempt to rope off the rocks lining the stream while Little Girl had surpassed them all and was running on tops of boulders not set with the purpose of any one ever testing their balance. Then here came the older boys, whizzing by and even knocking the girls out of the way. I was done. I gave them the five-minute warning and ended up pulling them out of there. No *happy hearts* rewards today. I got an earful on the way to the car:
Little Girl: You never let us do anything. You're always mad at us. Now I'm mad at you! I don't want to talk to you anymore. I don't love you. I'm mad at you.
Me: (pulls them to the car, sets Baby Girl in her seat, kneels down) Honey! You think I'm always mad at you? I'm not mad at you! I worry about you because I'm your mommy.
LG: Well I'm mad. You always say no. You don't love me.
Me: No. That's not true. You have to know that I know exactly how you feel! Do you feel like you can't do anything right? (nods, pouting) Do you feel like you're trapped? (nods, eyebrows raised) Do you wish you could have more freedom? (nodding feverishly, almost smiling) I know how you feel! That's exactly how I felt when I was a kid living in Mimi and Pop Pop's house! You can have more freedom! (smile, gasp) But with freedom comes more responsibilities. You have to show me I can trust you to make the right choice. (squealing, she heard none of that last part)
And the full circle reveals itself again. I've taken them swimming at the city pool I grew up visiting every summer, I've watched Pippi Longstocking with them and read Henry's Awful Mistake to them at bedtime, and now I am revisiting my childhood through their eyes. Further exacerbated with the current point of my memoir (I'm starting to hate that word- memoir), my childhood, and a spring break reconnecting with great friends- both from when my husband and I first met and also the girls I grew up with- a tidal wave of memories has flooded my brain and my heart.
These two have been with my husband and I since the very first "date". They were his friends first and have been there every step of the way. The top photo is our first one together. Bottom left is when she was pregnant with her first. Bottom right is all of our children playing together last week.
I grew up on the same street as two of my best friends before we all moved away or moved on. By some chance of wonderful luck, we've remained friends all these years and just got all of our children together last weekend for the first time! Now, that'll bring you back! It has been many years since we were all pushing our babies around in strollers. The top picture is our attempt to
I went on several trips, travelling different roads this past spring break- memory lane, highway 45. Our trip to Houston was absolutely wonderful. The kids had a ton of fun together and us moms squeezed in some mommy juice (or as my daughters call it, "poison") at night and played catch-up. That first night, I was trying to shake off Little Girl's newest request to get some separation between us and to enjoy more freedoms, when I realized I had forgotten the baby monitor at home, and the box fan, and the lullaby CD, and a nightlight. As my girls grow up and let go of old comforts, I must as well. The box fan, lullabies, baby monitor, and ladybug nightlight are more for me than them at this point. Growing up that night, for me, meant not panicking and rushing out to the store to buy a monitor for my almost six and four year old, uploading a lullaby app on my phone, leaving the closet line on and cracking the door.
I couldn't help but dip back into the old pot of memories after that trip. And I'm certainly examining them, or at least thinking about examining them, for my memoir. (It's official. I hate that word.) Many questions arose when I first became a mother about choices my parents made in raising me and I've found some answers the last few years as I begin to mature as a parent myself. Whereas nothing was too terribly traumatic, several grey areas of my childhood yet remain and they aren't accustomed to visitors. I love this line from Hope Floats by the little girl, Bernice:
I guess I'm in the middle with Little Girl now. I taught her to eat, held her hand while she learned to walk, showed her how to use the potty, sent her off to kindergarten with experiences, skills, and a heart of gold, and now the beginning is over. I do hope my children will have a more positive outlook than Bernice on their youngest years, simply because I'm doing my best. Surely my best will be good enough? Little do they know that it won't be easy to break away from me. I will be with them...everywhere...forever...even on that little train.