Photo by (and including) Brooke
“So, Mama, there are these little fish that swim with sharks. And even though they could, the sharks don’t eat em. They’re called pilot fish, and they act like toothpicks for the sharks. They go right INSIDE their mouths and they eat out the stuff that’s stuck. There’s a whole lot of extra meat in there. And since they’re pretty small – well, at least compared to the sharks – they get all the food they need just from eating the stuff that they find in the shark’s teeth. So they stay with the sharks and swim around with them everywhere. Isn’t that cool?”
“That’s very cool, baby. Did you read that in your new book?”
“Uh huh. It’s awesome. Don’t you think that’s cool? That the sharks don’t eat the pilot fish?”
“I do, baby. Have you ever heard the term, symbiotic relationship? Do you know what that means?”
“Ooh! Wait! I think so. Like the sea anemone and the clown fish?”
I know squat about sea life, so I have no idea if it’s like the sea anemone and the clown fish or not. I wait it out. If I’ve learned one thing in my forty years, it’s that you can sound really smart when you don’t talk.
Katie tries to puzzle through their relationship but can’t quite remember what it is. Something about a hiding place and stingy tentacles not stinging. Unfortunately, all I can think of now is Finding Nemo and that little Ellen Degeneres fish who could never remember anything. Man, she was hilarious. You know – for a fish.
“So does it mean that they’re unlikely friends?”
“Hmm, not necessarily, baby. Keep talking it out.”
“Oh, well, they stay together and they don’t hurt each other and they kind of need each other. They each do something for the other one.”
“That’s it, baby! Good job, they each give the other something that they need. You and I have a symbiotic relationship, you know.”
“Yup. What do I give you?”
“Hmm, well, food. And clothes. And a place to live.” She nuzzles her head into my arm. “And love!”
“Yup. And you give me, well … everything.”
She rolls her eyes and laughs.
“Mama, did you always know you’d be a mama?”
“Even when you were a kid?”
“Yup, even when I was a kid.”
“Oh, yeah, that’s right – you said you’d decided when you were my age that if you had a daughter you’d name her Ashley. I forgot.”
I smile. “Yup.”
“But then you didn’t. Tell me that story, Mama.”
I laugh. “Not much of a story, kiddo. I think you pretty much covered it.”
“By the time you had me, you didn’t feel like that was the right name anymore.”
“I like my name.”
“I’m glad. I think it’s perfect. I couldn’t imagine you being anything else.”
“But how did you know you wanted to be a mama?”
“I just did, baby girl. It was what I was born to be. But not just any mama. YOUR Mama.”
“And Brooke’s too?”
“Yup. Brooke’s too.”
I wrap my arm around her and squeeze her shoulder as we walk. “You made me whole, little one.”
“That doesn’t make sense, Mama. You were already whole before you had me.”
“Well then, you made me wholer.”
“Um, Mama? That’s not even a word.”
God, she is so .. TEN.
“It is now.”
She gives me a gentle shove. “Is not.”
“Ok, fine. But there was always a space for you inside of me. Maybe it wasn’t actually empty before it was full. Maybe it was just waiting to expand when you were ready to climb in and open it up.”
“Um, Mama? If that means what I think it means, then it’s really gross.”
“Oh, good Lord, child. Let’s just walk, shall we?”
We walk quietly.
“I love you.”
I smile. Game on.
“I love you more.”
“Nope, I’m bigger.”
We are coming up on the ice cream shop. I count down.
Five. Four. Three ..
“Can we get ice cream?”
“Dang it, I thought I had ya.”
“Nice try kid.”
Cue eye roll in three, two, one …
Yup, I was born to be her mama.