The wet snow looked like buttery popcorn as we stepped out of the salon. She pulled up her hood, her eyes fixed on the wet ground, walking slowly behind me. For awhile, I said nothing. Then, more sharply than I intended, I looked back and said, “Let me guess. You hate it.”
She looked up, and seeing my expression, she turned her eyes towards the cars, splashing noisily alongside us. “Well, um, it’s just that–“
I interrupted her with a exhausted sigh and glanced down distractedly at my phone, signalling my annoyance. We walked along in silence for the next few minutes.
As we walked, I could feel the familiar anxiety rising in my chest. I was desperately trying to summon up the mother who could easily put aside her own irritation at having set aside an important work project to pick up her daughter early for the haircut she begged for just that morning. I wanted so badly to be able to reach back and take her hand, tell her that it was totally alright if she didn’t love the 25 dollar (!) haircut, that it would grow back in no time at all, and that we’d wash the pink sparkles out as soon as we got home. Because that’s what Good and Loving Mothers do, right?
Only, I didn’t do or say that. I lifted one eye from my phone and said, angrily, “You know, for once, would it kill you to just pretend that you like it?”
“Ok” she said tentatively. In that moment I could almost see, between the kernels of popcorn snow now falling heavily between us, the angst swell up inside her tiny body. She took off her hood, and I watched her attempt a nervous skip as she caught up with me, as if to say, “Look at me and my new haircut — isn’t it TOTALLY AWESOME!”
We arrived back at the school and got in the parked car, neither of us mentioning the haircut. She tried to engage me with the usual sordid tales of Grade 2 that I normally can’t resist, but I found myself responding with only curt “uh huhs” and perfunctory smiles. In the rear view mirror, I could see the tender edges of nervousness creeping into her face, and eventually, she sat back in her seat, stopping her story mid-tale. And yet still, I said nothing. By this time her brother had arrived and, sensing the tension between us, offered an uncharacteristically earnest “how was your day?’ as we pulled away from the school. “Fine,” we both muttered sharply, at exactly the same time–prompting the boy to offer an instinctive, barely audible “jinx zipper spots!” (don’t ask — kids are just weird).
When we got home, she marched up to her room, where she stayed long enough for me to unload a well-curated list of “all the things I do for her” on my partner, who nodded sympathetically here and there as he cut up the broccoli for dinner. And then, without a word, he carefully set the table, poured me a glass of wine, and asked if it was time for a hug. I immediately bristled, thoroughly annoyed at the gall of him in suggesting that all my Very Serious and Important Complaints could be somehow reduced to a hug. But a second later I nodded, my body gently sinking back into my chair. Summoning up my very best version of my defeat meets exhaustion-induced neediness face, I waited. He kept chopping.
“Hello?” I said, exasperated. “I thought you were going to give me a hug,”
Without looking up, he said calmly, ” I didn’t say that. I asked you if it was time for a hug. I didn’t mean from me.”
I walked up the stairs and knocked gently on her door. Before I could say a word, she burst from her bed, wetting my shirt with her hot tears, telling me how much she really loved the pink parts, but was worried that the snow would ruin it. “I just wanted to get home quickly and look at it in my mirror before showing my friends at school.” As the shame of what I had put her through on the way home swept over me, I started bawling too. We lay on her bed for awhile, staring at the ceiling and blowing our noses until her Dad finally called us down for dinner.
Parenting breaks your heart into a million pieces, a thousand times a day.
PS. The broccoli was really good.