Katie and I were face to face on the toboggan. She had hatched a plan to go down the hill backwards in order to avoid getting snow in her face. “Remember, Mama,” she shouted over the wind, “You’ve got to steer!”
I laughed, knowing full-well that this plan was likely doomed for some sort of spectacular failure. But I promised to do my best.
We shuffled our way over the hump of the hill and began to gain speed. I squeezed my legs around her as we hit the downhill. Almost immediately I fumbled the rope and lost any hope of controlling our direction. We listed to the left as we veered dramatically off course, screeching to a stop far from our intended destination.
Her face was completely covered in snow. Not an inch of skin had escaped. Her eyelashes were coated with ice and tiny droplets of water dripped from her nose. She looked like the abominable snowman.
With one eyebrow raised in mock accusation, she pointed to her face. “This,” she said, “is on YOUR conscience.”
I laughed so hard I fell off of the sled and landed in the snow.
Her little sister, however, wasn’t laughing. She was, in fact crying. Although she typically loves sledding, it simply wasn’t working for her that day. After two runs down the hill, she’d decided that she was done. Luau convinced her to stay for a while. They had a few great ‘runs’ down a snowbank, but soon her tolerance had been stretched beyond capacity. She could say nothing other than, “I want to go home.”
Since Katie and Luau would have the sleds to lug home, we left them the car. Besides, I thought the walk might be nice. I took Brooke’s hand and we set out toward home.
As quiet and undemanding as the walk was, my girl just couldn’t manage to calm herself down. She needed the comfort of home and nothing else would do. I tried every trick I had, but the tears wouldn’t stop.
I talked quietly as we walked.
I showed her a house that I’ve always liked. I told her that I thought it looked welcoming. I talked about the dogs that were barking at one another through their respective fences and wondered aloud what they might be saying to each other.
I told her that Mama wished I could make things better. I told her that that’s what Mama’s do – when our babies are upset we try to make it better. I told her it’s hard sometimes when Mama doesn’t know how.
I hesitated. The question was there. Hanging in the cold, damp air. It was there.
The icy snow crunched beneath our feet. Her breath was slowing. She was beginning to calm down.
“Hey, Brooke?” I asked.
I kissed the top of her head lightly, hesitating.
“Do you think you might want to be a Mama someday?”
As soon as the words came out, they made me dizzy. Should I not have asked? Should I have asked? COULD my girl be a mother someday? Would she ever WANT to be? Is it an absurd question? Of course it is; she’s not quite eight years old. But when I was eight, I knew. When Katie was three she would talk about being a Mama when she grew up. Three. That’s what little girls do, right? Little girls talk of such things. Was it wrong to ask? I had no idea.
“Yeah,” she said to the snow.
“Hmm, would you like to have a girl, do you think, or a boy?”
That one was easy. “A girl.”
“What would you want to name your girl?”
She didn’t hesitate. “Clara.”
I asked if she thought she’d have a job when she grew up.
“I would be a teacher,” she said.
Oh, baby girl, I thought. You already are.
I told her that I thought she’d be a wonderful teacher. The best, in fact.
“And I would be a doctor.”
“Wow, so you’re going to be a teacher AND a doctor? And a Mama too?”
We had to walk single-file as the path narrowed. I held her hand over her head.
“Maybe you could be a doctor who teaches other people how to be doctors. Would you like to do that, ya think?”
We went back to walking side-by-side as the path widened again. We got stuck briefly at the edge of a snowbank. I lifted her up and over, then pointed her back toward home as she began walking in the wrong direction.
I remembered the conversation from my childhood when I’d told my dad that I’d wanted to be a nurse. He asked why not a doctor. OK, I’d said, I’ll be a doctor. Then why not a hospital administrator. OK, I’d said. Then why not open a chain of hospitals? If you want to help people, Jessie, help a LOT of people. Bigger, my dad taught me. Always think bigger.
I looked at my girl. Her face was streaked with tears, but she was finally calm.
“Sweet girl,” I said, “if you want to be a doctor who teaches, you will be a great doctor who teaches. And a wonderful mom. There’s nothing you can’t do, OK? Nothing.”
It took all the restraint I had to sound calm. I wanted to yell.
Do you hear me, Universe? My girl can do ANYTHING that she wants to do. Do you understand? ANYTHING. I need to believe that. And by God, she DESERVES to believe that. There is NOTHING she can’t do. NOTHING. It may not be easy. Nothing for this child ever is. But damn it, she can do whatever she wants to do. Do you hear me? Don’t you ever tell her that she can’t.
We headed into the house and peeled off the morning’s frustrations layer by heavy, wet layer.
She settled onto the couch, watching the same episode of Elmo’s World for the third time that morning. As I fussed in the kitchen, she yelled to me, “Mom, come quick! I need you!”
I ran in like a shot, wondering what had happened.
When I got close enough, she reached up, hooked an arm behind my neck and pulled me down onto the couch. She crawled up and over my legs and curled into a ball on my lap. I folded my body over hers and rested my cheek on her back.
I once wrote that I love my girl with a ferocity and a tenderness that can only co-exist within a mother’s heart. And so it was as I whispered, “I love you so much, baby” into her ear and finally let my own tears flow.