When I was her age, I don’t think I believed in my own opinion anywhere
near as much as she owns hers. At six – not even, she’s still a few weeks shy – she has an abundance of self-esteem. She stands, solidly planted, unquestioning in her dominance. At the park she reigns. She barks out orders and her friends comply without complaint. They seem happy to do her bidding. Nobody messes with Buddy-roo.
Yesterday an argument between sisters came to blows and resulted in two girls in tears. Buddy-roo, frustrated at her sister’s unwillingness to follow orders. Short-pants, annoyed at the repeated, relentless, nagging request that would not accept a polite, or even an impolite, no. It was one of those situations where a brief separation was the best solution.
Buddy-roo sulked beside me in one room, refusing to discuss or debrief the angry encounter with her sister. “I’m not talking to anyone,” she said, “even you.” Sometimes when I’m mad, I just need to be mad, so I understood. I read my book while she curled into a ball beside me. She wanted me close, but quiet, which is just as well because I don’t know what I could have said that wouldn’t have just made things worse. I could equally query one about being relentless and the other about being inflexible. Three sides to every story.
I overheard De-facto in the other room telling Short-pants about his grandmother, how when she was 2-years old – or so the story goes – her grandfather, a man with a friendly Irish name but a gruff Irish disposition admonished her for climbing up a bookcase. Much to the surprise of the rest of her assembled family, all of whom trembled before the overbearing man, she glared back at him over her shoulder from the third shelf and retorted, “You don’t own me.”
De-facto always has a good story, and knows exactly when to share it; this one perfectly timed to strengthen Short-pant’s intended resolve against her bossy little sister.
Short-pants returned and stood in the doorway. “You don’t own me,” she pronounced. Buddy-roo regarded her, unimpressed.
A little while later, I heard the two of them playing together upstairs. They fell into their imaginary world of pet-shops, fairies and princesses, as though nothing had ever come between them.
I have a childhood memory – it can’t be exactly true and yet it resides in my visual recall – of playing with a ball of mercury. Maybe it was in a science class? Or else a thermometer had broken and maybe it was my brother showing me but not letting me touch? I can’t remember, except for an image that is engraved in my mind. The wild silver ball slipping around the ring of a porcelain saucer, the force of its motion breaking it apart into dozens of little balls and then easily fitting itself back together in one seamless piece. How immediately it could fracture. How permanent it looked once re-bonded.
Sometimes my experience of mothering two daughters is like looking in one of those three-paneled mirrors in a department store fitting room. I see myself straight ahead in the center. Flanking me, one on each side, I see the girls, turned slightly toward me, surrounding me, reflecting at me their actions and dramas, reminiscent of some part of me. Oh, there I am, part defiant, stubborn and bossy – as a young child I confidently wrote letters to my teachers pointing out their errors, and there are abundant teenage tales about how I head-ached my parents. Oh, there I am, the sensitive, uncertain one, eager to please – I was always compliant about things like homework and helping with the dishes, and I excelled at making polite conversation while serving hors d’œuvres at my parents’ cocktail parties.
Oh, here we all are.
I suppose it’s natural, but it’s downright creepy sometimes, how these two girls produce this reflection of me. I’m not sure if I want to encourage them heartily or apologize profusely. But I need only turn the other direction to observe my own mother, and to see – stunningly – how much of her they must see reflected in me. How much of her – I finally understand, now that I’m mothering – is now so much part of me.
It’s like we’re all part of that ball of mercury, temporarily split apart but within view and shouting distance, so clearly made of the same shiny silver substance, and yet separated from each other – except in those rare, complex, and rather profound moments when we can all see each other for who we really are.