Not the same.

Little kids have friends. They have buddies. They also have that kid that their parents stick them with on a regular basis who doesn’t know who any of the Ponies are, keeps snatching toys, and says infuriating things like, “Mine is better.” All. The. Time. Their parents do this because the other Mommy is awesome and makes great playtime snack food and the kids are within two years of age.

In case we as parents have missed it, Fiona has informed me that this is not the same thing as friendship.

“She are not my friend. Her mommy is your friend.” She sighs horribly, “That’s not the same.”

 

I have been informed.

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The Only Thing.

From the backseat of the car came the petulant tones of my daughter. Having just been told that she would not be allowed to play video games she was railing against the injustice of the world and my obvious lack of parental affection. I pointedly tuned out her complaints.

As we pulled into the parking lot at home she finally sighed loudly and said, “The only thing that will make me happy is…”

Then she paused dramatically. I took a long-suffering deep breath and braced myself for more arguments about video games, “Is what, Fiona?”

“The only thing that will make me happy, can make me happy, ” she said in her best classical dramatic acting voice, “is Science.”

“What kind of science?” I asked. It’s important to ask as I don’t own lasers, or microscopes, or elephants.

“The kind where you mix two things together to make something new.” She said.

“Chemistry?”

“YES!” She bounced out of the car, ” Chemistry is the only thing in the whole world that can make me happy.”

“Okay.” I said. Really, vinegar and baking soda are a cheap ticket to happiness.

Reading

As it turns out, Fiona can read.

I was surprised by this. Every time I sit down to read with her she tells me, “Mommy, I’m four. I can’t read. You read to me.”

So, I shrugged and started reading. Every time.

Until a couple of weeks ago, when we were on our way to the park. I was walking along side Fiona as she pedaled her big girl bike with the slightly wobbly training wheels. All of a sudden she stopped. I stepped into the bike and asked her what was wrong.

“Mommy,” she asked, “what’s an Open House?”

I frowned down at her sideways. I looked around us suspiciously. Sure enough at the end of the block was a large Caldwell Bankers sign reading “Open House”.

I felt my face twist into that parent-ally familiar frown of hey-wait-a-second-I’ve-been-had and explained the strange concept of allowing lots of people to walk through a house for sale. Still, I felt tricked.  This is the same child who insisted that she couldn’t read the word ‘car’ on the page of a book earlier that morning. I’ve never read an “Open House” sign to her before. The little turkey not only learned to read, she also learned to lie so she could get more stories out of me.

 

I can now insist that she read to herself at regular intervals. I’m nice though, I explained that I want her to practice reading but I’ll still read to her whenever she wants.

 

One day.

I rarely put on the radio in the car. See, I travel with my own variety show. Some days it’s scientific inquiry. Some days it’s music appreciation. (Darling, I appreciate crooning when it’s not at “screech-owl” volume and pitch.) Some days it’s just the random musings of a mind that doesn’t really believe in social rules and physical impossibilities.

Regardless of what we’re tuned into it’s always more interesting than the latest radio hit.

The other day, Fiona asked me, from her new big-girl booster seat, “Mommy, are robots real?”

I find that no matter the question, no matter how simple the answer seems at face value, it is important to consider what she’s asking and why.  “What kind of robots are you asking about, Baby? Do you mean the awesome kind with lasers that run around fighting crime and blowing up bad guys, or the kind that are like people? Because that kind isn’t real yet. But there are real robots that do real jobs. They do things like bend metal, or they pick up things and put them places, sometimes they go places people can’t and take pictures. But they aren’t like the ones you see on TV, they are simple than that.”

“Oh.”

Then there came a long silence from the backseat.

I let the wheels turn.

“Mommy? What kind of scientist?”

“What kind of scientist does what?” I ask. She sometimes wanders from the original question.

“What kind of scientist builds robots?”

“Ah.” I answer, “An engineer.”

“Okay.” She begins. She has this special definitive tone she uses when she’s making a declaration of something important. “Mommy. When I grow up I am going to be a en-gi-neer. AND I am going to building amazing robots. Not boring ones. And then I will take over cities. I will be a engineer. ”

“Excellent!” I say.

And I don’t laugh, because she’s at that age. And because one day she will build robots.

Still wonderful.

So, I took a break this year. From writing and reading blogs. Really in a lot of ways from the computer – I unplugged and walked away. I painted. I taught painting. I kept Fiona home with me and we played and learned and explored.

Then this morning I took her to the pool. It’s hot here right now. The heat wave on the west coast has blanketed my area. It is a lethargy inducing kind of heat. We have nowhere to be. No deadlines to meet. No air-conditioned offices to arrive at and fight to achieve artificial deadlines with angry people who can’t recognize that their frustration directly connects to the fact that their car was 125 degrees when they got into it on their lunch break.

Nope. Not us. In fact, I didn’t even turn on my coffee pot this morning. I just poured a tablespoon of instant into a cup of microwaved milk. I turned on the stove yesterday just long enough to heat one hotdog. That’s it. Apart from that, the stove hasn’t been turned on for four days.

The pool was what it always is: cold, fun and wonderful. Full of wonder.

Less hers this year than mine. Last summer, every time we went near the water her face would light up with a combination of curiosity and nervousness and wonder.  Today the pool is awesome, but it’s old hat. It’s something that it is so familiar that it would be a little like being amazed at toast. Sure it’s incredible if you think about it, but in that moment it’s just pleasure.

But for me? Standing in the cold water waiting for my incredible, strong, lanky little girl to launch herself off the edge and swim to me ten feet from the edge of the pool and watching her face all lit up with concentration and strength without fear or artifice or self-consciousness. Standing and watching my child in the last few months were her world and my world are a small sacred space that I control who enters. I am gripped by the insane desire to slow it all down and hold onto these little moments forever. It’s like trying to hold sand. The tighter you grip the faster they go.

Still, I learned something today. I need to stand at least 15 feet back. That girl can jump.