It seemed like such a good idea at the time. Well, at least sort of. Oh, hell, maybe not. Maybe it was a crap idea from the start, but I really thought it would be fun.
Perhaps I should have known when I was holding a crying Brooke on the stairs just because I’d suggested that we leave the house. Or perhaps I should have known when I looked at the menu online and realized that we’d have to bring something from home as a back-up plan. Perhaps I just somehow should have had the Spidey Sense to know better.
She’s not unhappy. She’s just absent.
I thought she would like stirring the fondue. I didn’t think she’d eat it, but I really thought she’d like the mixing part. I thought that she’d do that Dora script that she always does when she stirs something, “Bate, Bate, chocolate!’ or that she’d say, “Mix, mix, mix, mix, mix, mix!” like she does when we stir the chocolate chips into the bowl when we make cookies. Or even say, “We’re making Chinese coffee!” like she does at the Japanese restaurant, mixing soy sauce with just about anything else at the table. She loves stirring, mixing, ‘cooking’.
I thought it would work, but she’s not there. She’s sitting with us, but my girl is nowhere to be found.
I thought the off time would serve us well. And it has – from what I can see, it looks like there is only one other party in the entire place. No kids crying, coughing, cooing or otherwise. Just us and a pot in the middle of the table just begging to be stirred. And she has no interest in either.
And then we’d given into the iPad and let her be where she needed to be.
Somewhere other than here.
I want to be stronger about this stuff. I don’t want to break down because my kid doesn’t want to stir food into a damn fondue pot. I mean, really. Even typing that sentence I can hear how absurd it sounds. But we all know it ain’t about the fondue.
Katie looks at me looking at Brooke. “Mama,” she asks with concern, “why are you crying?”
I’m not crying. I’m welling up. There’s a difference, damn it. There is. Crying is well, you know that whole ugly shoulders heaving thing. Or at the very least it’s rolling tears. Yeah, that’s it. There have to be rolling tears. So it’s settled. I’m not crying; I’m welling up.
But when you’re ten and your mom is welling up, she may as well be crying. At ten, she’s not really interested in my self-protective semantics. She just knows Mama’s hurting and she wants to know why.
I hate these moments. I want to be stronger than this. Or at least I want her to think I’m stronger than this. But the gig is up. She knows. And she’s not letting it go.
“Please, Mama,” she says, “tell me. Maybe I can help.”
The words are hauntingly familiar. Because they’re mine. “Please, baby, talk to me. I’m here to help.” I say them all the time. Why should she do anything differently?
I try to demure, to smile and wave off the question, but she’s not letting me off the hook. She’s so tender that I’m irritated, almost angry. She should never be mothering me. Not her job. Her job is hard enough.
“Please, Mama,” she says again as she nuzzles into my arm. “It’s OK to tell me; I promise.”
She’s not going to let it go.
I don’t have it in me.
I give in.
Very quietly, I tell her that I had just hoped that this would be something that we could really enjoy as a family. All of us.
She looks at her sister, engrossed in her iPad. Ever so slightly, she smiles.
She picks up a skewer and pokes it through a strawberry, then holds the handle out toward her sister.
“Hey, Brooke,” she says, “wanna dunk my strawberry in the chocolate? It’s kinda like Dora!”
Brooke looks at Katie. I don’t realize that I’m holding my breath.
“Sure, Katie,” she says as she takes the skewer from her and gently stirs the strawberry into the chocolate. She peeks up and over the pot to see what’s happening inside.
She hands the now-dipped strawberry back to her sister.
We repeat the process again and again, skewering everything on the table until there’s nothing left to skewer.
She’s here. My girl showed up. She’s here.
Katie looks up at me. She’s beaming.
And I am
welling up crying.