Friday, January 13, 2012

A Mother Who Tries.


Today is a very special day. When my mom called this morning, she asked if we got Pookie a present for her birthday. I suddenly felt anxious, self-proving and self-doubting. No we hadn’t. I started blabbing on about how Bouka had just had the onslaught of birthday and Christmas gifts in Buffalo, that we had a tea party with Adam and Elisa yesterday during which Pookie opened two gifts, that I made chocolate chip cookies with the girls yesterday, that I bought stuff for Pookie and Bouka to make their own pizzas. Yada, yada, yada. Then I stopped myself. I should have stopped myself before I started. All I needed to say was, “No we haven’t.” I could have left it to her to respond in her own way, instead of trying to anticipate what she was thinking and how she would feel about it. Am I such a weak and wavering person that I cannot decide for myself how I feel about my daughter's birthday? Are my decisions always made out of anxiety about how someone else, Sandy or my mother or someone in the sky, will interpret and feel about it? I guess so. Bummer! I would tell to myself, “I gotta be stronger than this,” but that would just be more down-talk. It’s better than the onslaught of escapist and avoidant excuses. It’s better than the manipulation that I am so tempted to perform.

So what do I want to do for Pookie’s birthday? Here’s how I REALLY see it (I think. I hope. Hell, who knows if it really is – what a joke, to suggest that I know something). Here are the facts, the details about Pookie’s birthday thus far. Pookie’s Aunt Missy (Moogoo, as Bouka recently called her) had an amazing two-part celebration for her in The Buff in December. She (Moogoo) paid and made arrangements for the extravaganza at Chuck E. Cheese. It included all of the cheesy trimmings (literally, the salty cheese on the pizza was included) and loud noises that a kid could ask for. As if that wasn’t more than enough already, Melissa and Brian had us over their house for a birthday sleepover (a big slumber party with siblings and parents and even one grandmother scattered around the Osterhaut). Missy spent all day cleaning her house to make it nice and special for Pookie. My mother had a specially ordered strawberry Coldstone cake decorated just as Pookie ordered. I mean, requested! To top it off, Melissa decorated the upstairs bedroom with streamers, balloons, colored lights, books, and toys (yes, even beanbags from her sixth grade classroom). Pookie got to have a sleepover with her fun and festive Aunt Missy and her older cousin, Rachel. Her fourth birthday was a dream come true, thanks to Aunt Missy who loves her nieces to pieces and did her sister a huge favor. Am I taking the lazy way out by not decorating and doing the party (part II) thing? I don’t think so. Pookie has already had the extended family bash and the extravagant fun. Pookie has already opened loads of material gifts.

What can I do for Pookie that she hasn’t already had on her fourth birthday? I can spend time with her, which is what she loves best. When I agree to play with Pookie, she rejoices and runs to kiss and thank me. I can tell her stories (what she calls “Stories from Mouth”) about when she was little, and about all of her past birthdays. I can make her pizza stations when she makes herself a pizza. I can close my laptop and pile up on the couch with Pookie, Bouka and Sandy to watch a movie and snack on popcorn. Whether or not those things are costly, those are the things that bring Pookie the most lasting and meaningful joy. If Pookie had her heart set on a material gift then my focus would be on that, too. If I saw something that Pookie would really enjoy (like “Matilda” or a box of Skittles), I would wrap it up for her. If she hadn’t already had balloons and if Gramma Sue weren’t sending more, I would put up balloons. But given the circumstances, this part of her birthday doesn’t need to involve another material gift. I like the idea of action-oriented gifts. I also like recipient-centered gifts. These are my gift-giving aspirations. Pookie’s heart is not set on material gifts, her heart is set on family.

Last night before bed, she said to us, “Yay. Tomorrow is my birthday! That means I get whatever I want. Momma Si, you told Mommy on her birthday that she could do whatever she wants. I get to do whatever I want, too.” Sandy said, “Oh yeah? What do you want to do?” Pookie wiggled excitedly and said, “I want to watch a movie with my family. And I want to play a board game. With my whole family!” She told us what mattered to her. When she tells me something, I want to listen. I try to listen and I will continue to try to listen to her, despite all the other voices in my head that tell me what I should or should not be doing. I want to give Pookie the best gift I can give her: a mother who tries to listen to her. She isn’t the same person as me. If I like lots of material gifts and traditional festivities (I won’t say whether or not I do because it varies...but mostly I do like some of the extravagance), it’s about me (not her). I want to try to let Pookie tell us who she is. I want her to figure out for herself who she is and what she likes on her birthday instead of dictating it for her so that she doesn’t know who she is or what she likes. That’s not easy. If you think I’m ambivalent about all of it, it’s because I am (a highly ambivalent, indecisive, conflicted person). Writing helps me to sort my thoughts in times like these so I can start, or at least start to attempt, to filter out some of the crap I'm telling myself from my true values and beliefs. But, without all the crap what's left is: Pookie. It’s Pookie’s birthday. It’s Pookie who matters. It’s who Pookie is, and not what she does or what she gets, that matters.

Pookie was born four years ago at 5:30 PM on this day (except it was on a Sunday). I’m sure almost every parent feels this way, but it’s true: I cannot believe that Pookie has been with us for four years. That’s almost one seventh of my lifespan. That’s one forth of the way to her sixteenth birthday. WAH! How can this be? I feel like it was just yesterday that the nurse brought us our long bundle of baby with wild dark hair, with her wide and flat nose, her pouty lips and her giant eyes. I feel like it was just yesterday that I held her on my warm deflated and contracting belly, moments after she was born, to breastfeed her. She came out of the womb and assumed a state of contentment almost immediately. I didn’t have to do any work to breastfeed her, it came naturally to her. I stared down at her and stroked her cheek. I said all that I could say to capture what I felt. The love was repetitious and simple. “Oh, Sweetie.” “I love you.” “I love you.” “We love you so much.” “Your so precious.” “You’re so perfect.” “Hi Baby.” “You’re our baby.” “You’re such a perfect angel.” She came into the world around suppertime on a Sunday, and her cries were mild gurgles. We were wonderstruck with love, it’s true. My hormones were doing all the right things (and boy does THAT sound like a freak occurrence). It was just the three of us and a few supportive nurses. That was how it all started. Our life with Darah. Now, four years later, we have a Pookie-D and an Bouka-E. It’s not necessary but it feels good to share how lucky we feel, how much joy and love they bring into our worlds.

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