Drama Queen (DQ, who is now 16) must have been about four when she asked me,
“Amma, did you ever want to be a dog?”
She was a huge fan of Clifford, the big red dog cartoon on TV and had watched a show in which the little kid imagines life as a dog. An ardent dog lover then (and now), we were having this conversation on our way back from day care. The Los Altos hillside looked green and graceful, as I pondered on an appropriate response.
“No, but when I was a kid, sometimes I wanted to be a boy.”
“I had two brothers and I felt life would be more fun being a boy, doing boy stuff, I guess.”
I turned around to see her scrunch her face in concentration in the blue car seat. She was quiet for a few minutes before she knocked me over with her reaction.
“But if you were a boy, you could never be my Mommy.”
Getting into “mommy school” probably has been the toughest educational experience in my life, notwithstanding my Ph.D., which in retrospect can be called a cakewalk. I know I am not the only one who says this. The not-so-fun part of motherhood is in knowing early on that you will never graduate from this institution, which is as old as humanity itself. The daily grind of mothering that begins with breastfeeding and diapers continues into constant supervision of meals and homework and unending arguments about friends and Facebook. It is a course of study that only underscores what you already knew the minute you held your baby in your arms – once a Mom, always a Mom.
Working full time with a small baby left me with very little bandwidth to enjoy the big moments. But we found happiness when we stopped to appreciate the small, uncomplicated moments together.
Happiness is….watching a snail on a sunny afternoon with your toddler.
Happiness is ….counting the colors of the rainbow after a brief rain shower.
DQ and I have both grown together, the years filled with toothless smiles, cheeky grins, hugs and laughter giving way to pimples, cramps, boys and non-specific teenage angst. The baby with a round face and stubby nose has morphed into a gangly teen with a perfectly oval face and a sharp nose. People say she looks like me but she doesn’t. She stands shoulder to shoulder with me, looking like the girl I wished I was when I was 16. She already exudes a quiet confidence, grace and sense of self that has taken me years to develop. She can do stuff that I can’t. She swims effortlessly and loves the feel of the wind in her hair as she bicycles down slopes. When she insists on shopping for new clothes, again, patiently trying on outfits, I know she didn’t learn this from me. When she enthusiastically gobbles up sickly sweet cupcakes I see a tiny reflection of my sweet tooth. She exasperates me with the number of hours she sleeps when she should be studying. The phone is glued to her hand and when its not, there is an iPad at her fingertips. And did I mention, fingernails dipped in brilliantly colored nail polish?
When she is nice, we discuss her day at school, laugh at her weird dreams and sometimes, boys. When I am nostalgic I remember that she was really good with naps but was a fussy eater in her toddler years. We drool over “hot” movie stars and play the same song over and over to get the words just right. She doesn’t borrow my shoes any more, they don’t fit her “giant” feet, a sore point over mistaken genetic selection. I share my love for books with her, forever pushing a suitable selection her way. She configures my phone and thinks I am cool for not wanting to “friend” her on Facebook. There are unreasonable demands at times but tears are rare.
I watch her closely, trying not to crowd her. I am always unsure whether I have got the balance right, allowing enough freedom with its consequent responsibility without sparking a teenage rebellion. We argue occasionally but hang out together more. I nag. She bickers. I bake. She eats. And once in a while, she gives me a giant hug. The “thank yous” are few but heartfelt and unexpected. DQ has been my anchor, my one constant during the years it was just her and me, when her dad and I parted ways. We continue to define happiness in the small uncomplicated moments together.
Happiness is….getting piggy-back rides from your daughter in the swimming pool
Happiness is ….sharing a vanilla cone on the beach after sunset
And now, in a new country, with a stepfather and stepsister, she is once again the rock on which I rest when I feel jittery. She made me a birthday card shortly after we moved to Singapore. It simply said “Home is where Mom is.” It’s probably a cute phrase she lifted from the internet but it shows me that she still binds her coordinates to mine, no matter where my journey takes her. I didn’t imagine my life taking this detour but I was strong for having a daughter to hold my hand. I don’t know how life will unfold but I now have another one too. The big questions can wait. I know this for sure. All I need to do is find happiness in the small, uncomplicated moments.
Happiness is ….. having two daughters!