Lola, my daughter, is a fire-cracker. Part of it is age three; part of it is who she is meant to be.
Between us: friction.
Every feeling she has is grand. Every thought she has is big. She likes to run around and entertain and she loves to lasso and marshal and make you bend to her will, which is endless, intense and disconcertingly effective.
My baby: she’s fierce.
In her circles, she’s the boss, the star, the sun, the Empress. The rest of us are satellites, lesser planets or possibly minions.
But Lola’s a lover, too.
It is her mission in life to torment me all day with unreasonable and non-negotiable demands, and then at night, after all of that, she rounds her small body into my corners. She starts off in her own bed but almost inevitably finishes sleeping on my head. She sleeps curled in the small of my back. She slumbers with her cheek on my shoulder while her small fists clutch handfuls of my hair. Wherever I move or shift or try to draw a border between us in the bed she remorselessly colonizes, her body tracks me and finds me – even through the depths of sleep. We are magnetic.
It is what saves us.
Her extravagant moods, dogged determination to challenge everything, and commitment to charming and owning the souls of every creature she encounters is modulated only by the generosity of her affection.
I submit to you the events of last Tuesday.
I was fried. My last nerve had been cooked and eaten by two cannibals two days earlier.
In short, I wasn’t negotiating bed time.
Bed time, however, was under formal protest, and I met that one-person riot with beatific resistance.
Thank you Ghandi. Thank you MLK.
I told her I simply couldn’t, and wouldn’t, read stories to people who yell at me.
And left her in her bed. She was story-less, and mad as fuck.
She screamed. She raged. She wanted a story, she wanted a new mommy, she wanted to live with daddy, she hated me.
Yes she did. She screamed, “I hate my mommy!”
My baby hates me.
Distraught. Both of us.
I lovehated her right back, right then.
Tantrums and time have a curious relationship. Time slows with each raised decibel. I waited forever. She screamed for a millennium.
Then Lola wanted her mama – the beloved mother she hates – who enrages her and torments her with bedtimes, vegetables and non-violent revolution. Only a mama can calmly surf a tidal wave of going-on four-ness. Sometimes only the one who hurts you can heal you.
My baby was drowning in grief. She’d swam too far out to get back on her own.
I went to her. I knelt beside her bed and put my arms around her. She put her hand on my cheek, and her teary, tired eyes met mine. Her face was wet. Her heart was unravelling with each raggedy breath.
“I love you, but I hate you,” she sighed. It escaped her like the last of the air in a furiously deflating balloon.
She spoke without malice. She spoke the truth.
Lola’s sighing surrender to love and rage felt like emotional organization, to me. I rocked her while she sorted her passions and catalogued her surprise at the fierceness of her feelings.
Then she let go and melted into me. And she slept.
The last couple weeks (years?) I’ve been living, thinking, studying, explaining and writing about mothering. Of all the pieces I’ve written, this story is one of my favourites and, I think, captures what it is to parent – love, hate, frustration, devotion – so I thought I’d run it again.