The following column was published in The News Courier in 2002, when Baby Girl was 9, but it’s about something that happened when she was 4. At the time, I had taken a brief break from journalism and owned a business that sapped me of energy and left me feeling I didn’t give enough to my child. This is for all the moms – single or partnered – who have ever wondered why their lives don’t resemble Hallmark commercials.
I am not immune to those sweet, light-infused commercials that leave us trying to surreptitiously stifle sniffles. After all, someone paid a lot of money to create ads that have that effect.
I’ve laughed when a child made a haphazard breakfast-in-bed for a sick parent who is also in need of a multi-symptom cold syrup. I’ve cried when a little sister awakens to the aroma of coffee and realizes her big brother is home for Christmas. And with a wistful smile, I’ve watched as a grandma who is no longer worried about bladder control pushes a laughing child in a tire swing in the light of a slowly setting sun.
But there’s no escaping the fact that these commercials have little resemblance to life as I know it. I doubt all the slow motion and light diffusers in Hollywood could evoke tears at the image of me standing at my front door, purse and shoes in hand, hair dripping wet, yelling at my daughter, “Hurry, we’re late!” Unless they were tears of pity.
Do I feel guilty about my lack of “moments?” I used to. Until the day I learned to recognize and savor the “commercials” in my life that I might otherwise have missed.
One Sunday morning when Baby Girl was 4, she jumped on my bed at 5:30. “Come on, Mommy,” she said, tugging the covers, “Get up.”
“Mommy’s tired, Baby,” I murmured. “Go watch cartoons. I’ll be up in a minute.” It had been an exhausting week, ending with a busy Saturday. I didn’t know if I had the energy to make it from the bed to the sofa, which is where I planned to spend the day.
But by 9 a.m., Baby Girl wanted to go outside and play in the beautiful fall weather. I dragged my pajama-clad self to the porch swing, where I watched her for a few minutes, the breeze ruffling our hair and the leaves of the maple in our yard.
“Let’s have a camp out,” I said, suddenly caught up in the beauty of my child and this day.
I threw an old bed sheet over a low limb of the tree, anchoring the flapping ends with rocks. We became campers. After a while, we sat cross-legged on Baby Girl’s Winnie-the-Pooh sleeping bag and ate peanut butter sandwiches. Then we lay back on the grass floor of our tent and closed our eyes.
“I hear katydids,” I said, not opening my eyes. “What do you hear?”
“The cat!” she said with a giggle.
A bird twittered. Her mate called back. We heard the steady clip-clip of a neighbor’s hedge cutters and the whir of an air-conditioning unit – so many things I hadn’t really heard in a long time. As I lay there, Baby Girl climbed on my stomach and stretched her length across mine. I watched her face, framed by blonde curls, and the silhouette of flitting leaves moving behind the draped sheet.
“I love you, kid,” I said, putting my nose to her freckled one.
Giggle. “Love you too, Mommy.”
In my mind, somehow that day has a soft glow and a visible sweetness. I took the time to enjoy it and now I will have it always. It has the stuff that could sell insurance or allergy medication, but I plant to keep it – just for Baby Girl and me.