Monday, March 8, 2010

"Don't Quote Me."

If you are reading this it is because Middlest has given me the nod.  It's part of the pact I have with my children.  They tell me things.  I don't tell other people without their permission. 

At least, I don't now.  Many years ago when Middlest was young, she told me she wanted to be a nurse midwife when she grew up and a flute-player and  an acrobat.  It seems (here is where I can't be sure if this is what I spun or what she told me) these endeavors were meant to co-exist in a single practice.  Of course!  the flute could be so relaxing to the poor laboring mother.  And acrobatics always come in handy. 

When I retold this story to our friend, Middlest insisted I had made it all up.  She didn't want to be a nurse midwife.  And certainly not that stupid part about the flute and acrobatics.  Sheesh! who would think something like that? 

I wished I'd kept my mouth shut.  And let that beautiful idea grow roots and put out a few more fantastical leaves.

So I don't tell stories about my children without running it past them first.  I too hate having assumptions made about me by people who presume they know my story without listening first to me. 

I hate having my stories mis-told.

And so when Middlest ends her breathless what-happened-today account with, "Don't quote me."  I don't.  Though she is deliciously quotable.  Middlest has always been a deeply wise child. 

Because you do know, don't you? that all mothers are amazed at their children's wisdom. It is endlessly amazing how amazed parents are at their own progeny. It must be hardwired into us, evolutionarily advantageous and also divinely designed, both at the same time. Though I'm not sure what purpose our amazement plays.  And I am sometimes amazed at other parents' amazement. 

But I am amazed at Middlest.  Once when I was correcting her, she stood up, lifting her chin in all her six-year-old dignity, "I am not the kind of girl you can talk harshly to." And what could I say?

She was exactly right and exactly what I wanted to be raising - a strong daughter who knew what she was worth.

"You are right.  I'm sorry. Though - remember too - I am not the kind of mother you can just ignore when I ask you to do something."

Because I still have to get my word in: I am that kind of mother. 

Not that I believe I'll ever get the last word.  That's a privilege that parents cannot really wish to have.  Because it would mean being the outliving one.  And yet I know I won't always come off well in the stories my children will be telling for years to come.  For example, Middlest hates that I always have to look on the Other Hand.  "Can't you just be on my side sometimes?" she says.

"I am - always - on your side.  But it's just that it helps me to try to understand why people would do or say what they do.  And then I can fix what is my fault and move on and let the rest drop away."

"But sometimes I just want you to be unfair and on my side only."  And I know instantly what she means - I love bringing my outrages to my youngest sister because this sister always assumes that those others are just idiots.  And of course that I, her undeservedly beloved big sis, am right and reasonable and utterly adorable too.

So I say, "I can try. Though I don't know if I can.  It's become such a habit that now it's just the way my mind moves."

And Middlest sighs, "I don't think you can either."

Middlest was talking about her track coach the other day, how great she was.   "Naomi loves me because I work hard."

"But I thought you were frustrated with that coach?"  The last I'd heard, during the last of cross-country, was that the coach had been overscheduled and missing in action a little too often and had written an aggravatingly clueless pep-talk letter.

"Yeah," said Middlest.  "So I just rewrote her letter for her."

"You what?"  What I'm really asking is, Can you play fast and loose with reality like this and not get caught?

"I knew she meant to be encouraging so I just erased her note and wrote in what would have actually been encouraging.  It all fit in right above the Love, Naomi . . . "


This strikes me as deeply wise.  When she is old, she may not need an imaginary bicycle.

 I do love her tidy mind, her lists and schedules, the way she plans ahead, packs beforehand, lays everything out and waiting.  Where did that come from?  Not from me. 

But I love even more a schedule I came across not long ago that she'd written (during French class? hmm.) in the middle of a particularly horrible awful no-good very bad day. It was a plan for what her perfect day would be - in detail -

"You travel pretty fast between city to beach to river - how's that done?"

"It's an ideal day.  And in an ideal day I wouldn't have to travel by car.  I'd be there already."

Makes sense.

6:00 am       Wake up & go on a run
6:45 am       Shower & dress
7:00 am      Breakfast - sliced peaches w/ vanilla yogurt on top sprinkled with grape nuts
7:15 am      Tidy up dishes
7:20 am      Vintage clothes shopping
10:30 am    midmorning snack - oatmeal cookie or maybe croissant w/ nutella
10:45 am   go up river and go hiking around a waterfall bring lunch - roast beef, Swiss cheese, mushrooms, green peppers & cream cheese on a hoagie bun  - and eat on hike w/ a friend or by self
1:15 pm      go play on the beach, play in water & collect seashells
3:30 pm      go on a bike ride
4:30 pm      take a shower & get ready for a dance
5:30 pm      dinner - Alaskan salmon 
6:00 pm      go on a walk on the waterfront
6:50 pm      youth dance in an outdoor setting w/ lots of Christmas lights etc. (& a fountain)
10:30 pm    after dance - graham crackers & nutella
11:15 pm    go home & sleep
My schooldays notebooks, too, are full of writing - rants and detailed accounts of every horrible thing that had happened with full dialogs of and then he said and then she said and I am afraid an analysis of all the probable back-stories thrown in. And ruminations on what I could have done to make it turn out differently.

Obviously, I needed to discover Nutella.

And to realize that truth has its place, but there are truer things than bare facts.  She told me a while ago, "It made me feel sad all day that you were so, 'I don't like those shoes.'"

To which I spluttered, "I didn't - !"

"Well, that's how it made me feel," said Middlest, getting to the essential point.  The essential, ironic point because I have next to no fashion-sense while Middlest is in love with textiles and patterns.  She has an eye for color and combinations that amazes me.  (Yes, I am repeatedly amazed.  I think I explained that already.)

As of now (having given up being a flute-playing nurse midwife with amazing flexibility) she wants to design water-purification devices for humanitarian aid work (or microfinance or building houses), but I also hope she'll make some room in her future life for shaping gorgeous fabrics . . . Anyway: "You asked me if I liked what you were wearing," I reminded her. "Do you just want to me to say yes?"

"I don't want you to lie to me."

So I tell her, "I almost always love the things you choose to wear."

"Aargh!" she grabs her forehead, "You are so painfully honest - almost always?!"

"How's this? - I can't think of a time when I haven't generally loved what you're wearing."


Last summer Middlest and I were sitting together with my mom outside in the mountains looking up at the stars in the clear, clear sky.  Her grandma was telling us about some research she'd come across recently in her practice.  The researchers would show a picture of a fern then ask people to draw it from memory.  Afterwards, no one could reproduce it but - ! my mom said, they found that if they scanned the drawings into a computer and then combined them, they made a perfect fern.  "I've often thought if I could shake all my kids up in a bag they'd make one perfectly balanced person."  And laughed, "But only one!"

And we looked up at the stars. 

Out of the darkness came Mid's voice, "You know,  I've always thought, if you could somehow combine the faces of everyone on the earth? . . . then I think you would be seeing the face of God."


M said...

Two things.

Did you know that when I laid my clothes out the night before I had to be sure they worked together so I always tried them on my rag doll, socks and all, and so had to undress her to get dressed each morning?

And haven't you just recently added that acrobat part to the story?

Lisa B. said...

wonderful motherly portrait. And if this "M" is middlest above, well then, I salute her. Many's the time (even recently!) that I've laid out an outfit the night before, then been horrified that it is awful when it's on, necessitating a lot of sweaty outfit invention on the spot. Clearly, I needed a rag doll to model my outfits first.

love love your blog. love these pictures.

B said...

This was wonderful. Just wonderful. I would love love love to hire a nurse midwife who played me the flute and caught my baby while doing the splits.

Anyways, her current ideas/goals are wonderful. I personally am very warm to the idea of microfinance.

suzanne said...

Same life. Again. Surprisingly wise middle child who is sometimes dreamy about the coach she couldn't endure yesterday. And eats all the Nutella.

Tiffany said...


RidingPretty said...

I love this!

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