Apple of whose eye?

Her daughter's 'tribute' turned out to be an episode of parental projection.

By

My 6-year-old daughter, Nina, wrote a poem the other day that I won't soon forget.

Her inspiration struck during one of our "lazy" Saturday mornings. In our family, "lazy" is code for watch as much TV as you like, just stay out of the kitchen so I can drink coffee and read the newspaper. Nina's two sisters have no problem cooperating. Nina, however, persistently travels back and forth to the kitchen to forage for yellow apples and salty nuts.

On this particular Saturday, Nina also came in hunting for pen and paper. Finding both items on the kitchen table in front of me, she bent over and began writing. She looked up only once, casting me an impish grin to confirm that yes, in fact, she did mean for me to notice her. Meanwhile, I wondered what she could be writing.

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Nina has always been a mystery to me.

For one thing, she doesn't take after me at all. Looks? No. Personality? Temperament? A perfect inversion of my own. She is left-brained to my right, literal to my abstract. She chooses fruit desserts over chocolate, repetitive board games to dramatic play, and fact over fiction.

Bounding out of school one day, she waved an oversized atlas at me. "Look, Mom!" she exclaimed. "A book full of maps, and only maps!" Until that night, tucked in beside Nina, I had never read an atlas in my life. Even our likes are mismatched. She likes snakes, owls, and cats. I like dead snakes, owls only as graphic art, and cats not even in theory.

I've tried to bridge the divide over the years, nurturing interests we could pursue together, or at least at the same time. They have a name for this at her preschool: parallel play. It's what kids do when they want to be around a friend but not necessarily play with that friend. It's a good metaphor for Nina and me. When she was younger, we could share long afternoon walks this way. She would fill her pockets with rocks, rooting herself to the earth in purple-sandaled feet while I, inches away, watched birds skitter above.

Soon enough, however, she went off to elementary school, leaving our afternoon walks and me behind. So when Nina interrupted my "me" time in the kitchen that lazy Saturday morning, I welcomed her quiet companionship.

Nina stood over the kitchen table that morning for several minutes, moving pen over paper. I could see crudely drawn letters floating above and below the lines, but not their collective meaning.

Then, as quickly as she had begun, she finished. She pushed the pad of paper back in my direction, and skipped out of the kitchen.

I pulled the notepad toward me, and read the note. I read it again. And then again, and again, so there could be no mistake. Nina had written a poem. A beautifully literate poem. About me!

Mom is a

Golden Delicious

the softest apple

in the world

I sat dazed for several minutes, holding the notepad in midair.

Nina loved me.

No matter how different we were, Nina loved me and had found her poetic voice in telling me so. That led to an another revelation: She could write! Nina and I were both writers!

But first, I had work to do. Surely her poetic talent had to be acknowledged, encouraged. Tension quickly set in. I wanted to write a poem in kind, but couldn't conceive a simile half as textured. Nina is: as saucy as a piping hot pizza?

After several desperate gulps of increasingly tepid coffee, I settled on the following:

Nina is

Nina

the sweetest name

in the whole world.

Calling her back into the kitchen, I pushed the notepad toward her and smiled shyly.

"What is this, Mom?" Her face contorted with annoyance.

I smoothed down her thick, unruly hair, tucking it behind her ear. "What's what, honey?"

"Uh, this?" she said, a tween before her time, backhanding the notepad at me. "Where's the answer?"

Thoughts ricocheted inside my head as I clutched the paper back and studied the verse anew. Eventually I found it. Or rather didn't find it. The missing punctuation, that is.

Mentally adding a comma after "Mom," and a question mark to the end, I paused. Despite the hard reality of the situation staring me in the face, I stubbornly clung to the idea of her words as a poem. She may have been describing an apple, but I would always find a certain poetry in her verse.

Eating hard-boiled crow, I tried to answer her question as lovingly as I could. "I don't know, Nina. I hadn't thought of it that way before. Do you think Golden Delicious are the softest apples in the world?"

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