A few weeks ago, the Saturday in Buffalo was a rainy, cool, and fall-like day. I love love love the fall. I love cozy sweaters and comfy jeans. So when that weekend called for a long sleeve shirt and jeans, I jumped all over it. Olive and I started our day off sleeping in and making nutella pancakes. I knew I wanted to do something with her that didn’t involve electronics, a TV screen or money. I wanted to BE with her. We took our sweet time and headed to the farmer’s market in the early afternoon where she picked out some peaches and strawberry ice cream, then drove the short distance to the park.
Buffalo is one of those sweet towns that stands out on an overcast day. The architecture seems to shine without the glare of the sun, the leaves are almost emerald, the shadows bold and mysterious. The perfect day for a walk in Delaware Park around the the lake. Olive is only 5, so normally we would stop at the playground, or she’d be riding her bike, or, when I had one, we’d be walking a dog. But today, I told her, I didn’t want to go to the playground and watch her run and jump and yell. I wanted to walk, get some exercise, look at the trees. She didn’t argue, and only let out a small sigh when she saw the swings. So we grabbed a peach from our bag of goodies from the market and began to walk together.
Olive is…practical. I joked with her we had to get to the underpass so the “bear” wouldn’t get us, and she scolded me almost, “Mama, there are no bears in the park”, calmly bit her peach and wiped her mouth the with back of her hand. I wondered, who are you? Where did you come from? How do you know when mama is trying too hard? Instead, we marveled at the flowers, the rustling of the trees. We yelled “Hello!” under the bridge, listened to the echo, raced each other to the fork in the path. We examined leaves and peered down spooky looking paths that could only lead to a dead body or a murky swamp. While walking around the big soccer field, I asked her directly if she was excited or not about Kindergarten, and without hesitation she replied, “I am kind of. I’m nervous I’ll be shy. Sometimes I’m shy, mama.” She kicked a stone and pointed at the sky and quickly switched the subject by asking if it was going to rain. We both jumped and yelped when we came across a dead rat, we waved to a new bride and her groom getting their pictures taken (sigh.), we rolled down a small hill in an open field. She asked me how deep I thought the lake was, if I liked peaches, and if I could do a flip like she can, it was easy, see, just watch this!
I could have been walking with an old friend.
Parenthood is so very interesting on many levels. When that little glowworm is first placed in your arms, and you look at them, it’s like meeting a stranger that you’ve known your whole life. You already are so intimate with each other, having carried that little person for 9 months. They already made you sick, made your back ache, made you eat weird food, and you haven’t even had a chance to officially say hello yet. Months pass, you watch them grow, watch them learn how to walk, to talk, to eat solid food, to ask for something they can’t have, and you learn how they react when the answer is no. And each time it’s a little different. I’ve heard of some parents who don’t name their children until “they get to know them a little bit more.” I remember the feeling of holding Olive and looking at her and thinking, “Oh my goodness, what if you don’t like me? What if I don’t understand what your cries mean?” The first years really are a process of getting to know someone so different from you. I think perhaps that is why parenting is SO incredibly hard some days. But she is MY CHILD, you think. Why is she not reacting the way I would or think she should? Where did she get that idea? How is she so damn funny? My sense of humor isn’t that good. Interpersonal communication isn’t just a learned experience we may have with our co workers or friends, we can have it with our own children.
I don’t struggle with communicating with Olive so much as that I am in awe of how aware of her surroundings she is. How she reads people so incredibly well. The way she simply experiences things, observes, internalizes, and then, when she is ready to verbalize her feelings, excitedly talks about it as if it had just happened. How she talks to herself when she is cleaning her room, like I do, or how her laugh is starting to sound like mine, but in her own throaty way. How she crosses her ankles and folds her hands in her lap without me having taught her how to sit like a lady, and has done that since she could sit up on her own. The look on her face when someone tries to make her laugh and she knows it is really not that funny. She doesn’t laugh to be cute, she laughs because something is genuinely FUNNY and it’s almost as if she knows the difference. How she recognizes that she is nervous because she might be shy. The way she furrows her brow and looks off into the distance when tasting food and how she sticks her tongue out when she is concentrating on a piece of artwork. Actually, how she has furrowed her brow at pretty much everything her whole life – an old friend used to call her “Mrs. Serious”! I learn so much about her and so much from her. Olive’s soul is as old and as sweet as her name, and each day with her is so new and so eye opening. I feel like I have been in the newborn stage with her for the past 5 years. I hope that feeling never ends. Getting to know and learn your own child is truly one of the greatest adventures of all.
We got to the car just as it began to rain, a good hour or so after we had first started out.
“I love you mommy,” a little voice said from the backseat.
I wanted to tell her I love you, too, Olive, so much it hurts. I love who you’re becoming. Everyday, you surprise me. You’re hilarious, you’re witty, you’re incredibly sweet. You also have no reason to be nervous – everyone is going to love you. Just be you. Show them how you see the world, and how could they not want you as a friend?
But instead I blew her a kiss and simply told her I loved her too, to the moon and back. Want to go to the moon? “Oh, mama,” she sighed, and rolled her eyes.