This Mother’s Day my gift came early in the form of a reality check on my relaxed and fun quotients. I learned to enjoy the present, thanks to a little girl named Laurel, 7, who entered our lives for school day mornings a few months ago and helped me get my mom skills to sparkle and shine again.
Laurel is in the chess program I run at the local community center and is always there and smiling no matter what. Win, lose, draw, cookie falls on the floor, she giggles through it all.
After being uncharacteristically absent for two weeks, Laurel came in one afternoon very somber and asked, “Mrs. Suhay, are you going to die today?” When I made light of it telling her I didn’t have that on my social calendar, Laurel solemnly replied, “My Daddy died. Am I going to die today?”
That exchange led to the chat with her mom, Theresa, and learning that Laurel’s step-father died very suddenly of a stroke, at age 34.
The shock of the loss had the effect of shattering Laurel’s rose-colored view of the world.
Then I learned that Laurel’s mom was up at 5 each morning in order to drive her 18-month-old son to daycare across town and then get back to our neck of the woods to get Laurel to a breakfast program at school and then, finally, to work, again, across town.
Both Laurel and my son Quin, 9, attend the same elementary school, and it seemed an easy fix to offer to take Laurel from 7 to 8:30 each morning, give her breakfast and take her to school with Quin for the remainder of the school year.
My husband has a key phrase that applies here: “Everything is easy when you don’t know what you’re doing.” I learned fast that I was right out of my depth with a little girl.
True confession time – I’ve always longed for a daughter, but said otherwise so as not to hurt my sons’ feelings or appear to be ungrateful for the gift my four boys are.
So Laurel’s become part of our morning routine for the past several months. She’s back to her old self, which is to say that this little red-haired, high-energy child is as effervescent, unpredictable, and dangerous when applied incorrectly, as one of Willy Wonka’s Fizzy Lifting drinks.
Here is the “daughter” of my dreams and she drove me crazy from the first moment she walked in the door because I had completely lost touch with my inner-girl child.
Here is a child speaking in a stereotypical high-pitched, baby-talk voice, in pink and with the attention span of a butterfly but the optimism of Super Pollyanna. If you put Laurel in a room filled ceiling to floor with poop she’d yell, “YAAAAAAAY! and run in to look for the pony.
I caught myself cringing and developing a sharp tone when answering her questions and feeling angst when it was time for her to arrive. What was wrong with me? She had a similar effect on Quin, only at a multiple of Pi. His Apergers nature means that interruption of routine can melt him down. Since my husband is the same way. Over time, I have learned to keep things quiet, predictable in the extreme and low-key in order to keep the peace.
“Why do you think everything is fun,” Quin demanded in frustration of Laurel after she’d tried to mimic him using a hula hoop as a jump rope, resulting in hitting me on the head so hard I was loopy.
Unfazed, Laurel squeaked out, “Cause ima gerrraal!”
“No! Not all girls think everything is fun. Like my mom,” Quin sputtered. “Would you think it’s fun if Godzilla came out of the river over there?”
Without the slightest hesitation she squealed, “Yes!” She then whirled around in an epic non-sequitur and shouted, “Kitty!” at one of our cats.
“Mom, she’s just like that dog in the movie 'Up'! The one that would be in the middle of a sentence and just stop and shout ‘Squirrel!’” Quin despaired. She was doing it more to make him groan – because that made her laugh – than because she’s actually that ditzy. Well, she’s pretty ditzy, but she puts it into hyper-active-hyper-drive for Quin.
I actually made a little video of them, comparing them to the cartoon "Dexter’s Lab" with Quin as Dexter and Laurel as DeeDee and her mom and I have had hours of laughs over the truth of that revelation. Unfortunately, Laurel saw the video and has embraced the Deedee role with more fervor and took to calling Quin “Dexter.”
After the second week of mornings with Laurel my husband finally met her and gave me that husband look that lets you know a big “Gotcha!” is about to manifest.
“She does everything you do that drives me insane,” he said. “You make everything funny, or you did until you learned to tone it down.”
I was incensed that he’d dare accuse me of being girlie, and that’s when reality tapped me on the shoulder and whispered in my ear that he was right and there was nothing “wrong” with Laurel.
I was the problem. I’d stopped many of my own happy-skippy, fuzzy-pink-optimist behaviors in the past few years and not realized it.
Moms are like minerals, the pressure can make us into diamonds, which is great, but diamonds need a lot of work to shine properly. I was still in the rough and didn’t even know it.
Having four boys, one in college and another headed to university in the fall, and working from home in a bad economy has both seasoned and toughened me up. I am a diamond in the rough with a glaring flaw – I’ve forgotten how to be a happy kid of either gender.
It’s taken the Laurel experience, being in another mom’s shows to cut me down to size as a mom.
In a house full of men and boys, instead of showing them how wonderful it can be to be yourself – be sparkly and free – I bowed to the household trend and blended in to the crowd.
Laurel brought back my fun side and helped me to see that if we want our kids to be themselves then we need to not bow to peer pressure, even in our own homes.
For Mother’s Day I am going to ask them to skip the usual breakfast in bed and crank the stereo to my favorite music, make waffles, and then paint my nails hot pink with little sparkly thingies on them. I may even wear heels with the apron just to freak them all out as much as possible. After all, I’m making up for lost time.