Monday, May 08, 2006

being the tulip

In the car the other day Esther was feeling cranky because I had been rushing her. I tried to distract her by pointing out a bold bunch of multi-colored flowers on someone's yard. “Look at those beautiful tulips,” I said too enthusiastically. “I would like to have some tulips like that.” I saw her frown in the rear-view mirror. What had I said wrong this time? “All the time you say something is cute and pretty, I want to be that thing," she said. "I want to be a tulip.”

How very "mirror mirror on the wall." This got me thinking about love and attention and just how much we humans seem to need in order to feel secure. To think of the time I spend each day tending to Esther's every need. To think of the number of times I have told her I love her. To think of the countless hugs, cuddles, kisses, head stroking sessions and encouraging words. To think of the patience. And this child is worried I love a flower garden more than I love her? What am I doing wrong?

Is she going to learn on her own that life is filled with beautiful things and to feel threatened by each and every one of them is a complete waste of time and energy? And can I help to teach her this when, to some degree, I am still learning it myself? How often have I read or heard about successful people who have done or are doing great and interesting things and envied them to the point of wanting to be them? Okay, a lot.

So I launch into a lecture about how a tulip is just an object whose only value is its beauty, but she, she is a real live girl who brings 100 times more joy into my world than any silly flower could. A flower can't make me laugh or hold my hand or draw nice pictures or say kind things or make me proud. A flower just stands there and looks pretty for a while then droops and shrivels up and falls apart.

The intricacies of Esther’s personality are hard to keep up with. When she sits down at her little table with her grease crayons to draw pictures of fancy dresses reminiscent of high fashion sketches, I find myself beaming with self-congratulatory admiration. Then, in that same instant, she becomes overly frustrated about how the arms look. One of them is too long, and she wants some scissors to cut it off. And she wants them now. She is getting more and more agitated and will not take any consolation from me that her picture is just perfect. And she is melting before my eyes. Going from happy, creative girl to sad, frustrated, perfectionist girl who can’t seem to see the good in what she has done.

And I am envisioning not a hungry child spinning out of control but a future fashion designer. A tempermental artist that needs to be spoiled and coddled and catered to. A woman who gets away with childish behavior because her talent just blows everyone away. She eventually raises her picture up off the table and says, "This dress is fifty thousand five dollars expensive." My fantasy might not be too far off the mark after all.

And I will use it to help me deal with the yo yo girl that is my four-year-old daughter. Blissfully happy, profoundly sad. Giddily silly, wildly angry. Surpisingly polite and mature, astoundingly selfish and bossy. The cliché’d roller coaster of life seems to be set up in our living room and no one knows when that pleasant, slow climb upwards is going to meld into that wild, precipitous drop.

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