Every momma has a secret, locked-up safe of prize memories. Because despite all the grunt-work involved, motherhood turns up the occasional heart-swelling sparkler. Like when he proudly presents his first smudgy, handmade Mother’s Day gift, or when she surprises you by cleaning up all her toys without even being asked. These pearls of gratuitous kindness and civility may be rare, but that’s exactly why we clutch at them so.
I’m not sure my four-year-old daughter has yet cleaned up all her toys without being asked, but I shall never forget the time when, about a year and a half ago, she nearly scrapped with a first-grade boy to defend my honor. I didn’t have a blog then, so here’s one from The Vault:
Baby’s first honor duel
We were visiting a dear Ohio friend, her baby girl, and her seven-year-old boy (who, incidentally, my daughter adored). My friend was singing some nonsensical song to her baby, as we mommas are wont to do, and it went something like:
“YOU! (bee-do!) …are my favorite animal!”
My daughter put down her crayon and raised her eyebrows. “She’s notta AMinal,” she said, her tone didactic, yet patient. “She’s PEE-poh — she’s a baby.”
“People are animals,” corrected the seven-year-old, hardly looking up from his book. “Babies too.”
“NO… they’re NOT. They’re peeeee-poh.” She sounded strangely aggrieved. But then, she’d just turned three. It devastated her to find a sock inside out.
“Are too” the boy retorted. Now she had his full attention. “We’re apes.”
“We’re apes?” I muttered to my friend.
My friend nodded. “Great apes.” (Her kid had two consecutive annual passes to the Carnegie Science Center under his belt. He knew his evolutionary bio, and he liked those around him to know theirs.)
As I was getting this straight, my daughter suddenly stepped between me and our perceived offender. She balled her tiny fists, stomped her tiny foot, and cried with sudden, savage preschooler fury:
“My MOMMA is NOT an AM-INAAALLL!”
We all stared frozen for a moment. You could’ve heard a bubble pop.
My bottom lip quivered, and I felt my eyes moisten. For the record, I’m cool with being a great ape (or even a middling one). I trust the primatologists have worked this through. But I’d never seen my child ready to brawl on my behalf before, so I was happy to accept her mantel of anthropological exceptionalism.
“Sweetie,” my friend whispered to her son. “She’s three-years-old.”
The poor boy looked helplessly from belligerent child, to his own conciliatory mother, to dewy-eyed me, astounded that two otherwise responsible adults would allow such willful ignorance to thrive in his very living room.
“Mom! She’s just WRONG. We are animals!”
“NOOOOOOOOOO!!!! Not me, and NOT HER!” My girl puffed out her chest, stuck her chin in the air, and pointed back at me, not quite nailing the “r”.
“Oh-KAY, buddy! Time to go to the store!” chirped my friend. She grabbed his coat and ushered him out the door, “but MOM“-ing all the while.
After they’d gone, and the garage door was whirring outside, I knelt beside my faithful firstborn and took her face in my hands. “Thank you, honey,” I said.
She patted me on the shoulder. “Is OK, Momma,” and with that, she returned to her coloring.
See this? This right here is my treasure, to lock safely away. So that some day, when my daughter slams a door in my face, I can pull this out, polish it up, and look once more at my reflection as she used to see it:
Her Momma, Greater than the Greatest of Apes. (And don’t you forget it.)