The smell of a dying fire swirled through the air as the sound of crickets filled the dark silent space. My left hip bone dug into the hard ground, it’s own layer of fat and the thick sleeping bag underneath providing a slim layer of comfort. Our first family camping experience would prove to be memorable, even if uncomfortable.
While my heart beat contentedly in my non-sleeping chest, full of love and gratitude, my body ached. My neck rested at an odd angle, perched atop a caramel-colored teddy bear named Frances. Pressed against my back was my sleeping preschooler, and tucked under my left arm was my sleeping toddler. Her auburn hair, badly in need of a trim, was pasted to her forehead and neck, and her hot breath hit my face with each exhale, a smell like that of Fruit Burst Toy Story toothpaste mixed with traces of the chocolate and marshmallow she’d eaten hours earlier.
Her fluffy toddler bottom rested in my hand, her diaper slightly squishy and warm from recently emptying her bladder, it’s thickness muffling the sound of passing gas. I smiled. This kid. Even though she’s been in our arms for two years, I feel like I’m just now getting to know her. I’ve known things about her, but not her. Many of the things happened right in the delivery room, and have stayed with her. Like her frequent gasiness and bowels. Ten times she pooped on that first day in this world. Ten times. If you’re a mom, you know that number is ridiculous. Most babies go once, maybe twice. In addition to these frequent outbursts, she’s also a sneezer. Seconds out of the birth canal, wet and slimy and flailing, she “ahhh-chooed” four times in a row. “Goodness!,” my doctor exclaimed. “This one might struggle with allergies.” And she does.
But in this tent, in our yard, with my two sleeping children pressed up against me, I realize that these traits have said nothing about her. Who she is. This girl coming into her own. This girl who can sing most of her ABC’s, loud and proud, doesn’t care when she messes up, and always gives herself a fervent round of applause afterward. This girl who gives kisses on the mouth freely and frequently, and who squeezes your neck with a welcome-home hug like she hasn’t seen you in months, even if it’s only been five minutes. This girl who insists on reading “Peter Rabbit” night after night, and who speaks the words with you in unison because she’s memorized the book. This girl who eagerly embraces any animal she sees, whether they want to be embraced or not.
She has a zest for life and a fearlessness that I envy, one that she’s naturally acquired from her father’s particular strain of DNA, not mine. Mine has been learned and coaxed and coerced, and influenced by that “grab life by the horns” husband of mine. Along with her zest comes a heart full of gratitude, such a beautiful combination. Recently, while leaving the movie theater after her first big-screen experience, I asked her, “Did you have fun?” Her response brought tears to my eyes. She pressed her pudgy forehead to mine, and simply said, “I appreciate it.” While learning and growing and testing boundaries has brought many frustrations for her, she genuinely enjoys life. She hits the ground running, but looks back frequently for parental recognition. (Note that I said recognition, not approval. She’s naughty like that.) She delights in letting us know when her heart is bursting with joy, telling us no less than 20 times at a family pool party, “I having fun!”
This child of mine, who pushes the limits of my patience and maternal endurance, has so many delightful facets to her personality. She’s bold, and brave, and affectionate, and smart, and funny. So very funny. May she always have the confidence to sing at the top of her lungs, even when she doesn’t know the words. Her rendition of “Frère Jacques,” with consistently incorrect lyrics, leaves me laughing and unwilling to teach her the actual words. She’s just doing her thing.
Where is Shaka? Where is Shaka?
Tommy Nu…Tommy Nu…
Summy Nummy Nee Na, Summy Nummy Nee Na…
Ding Dang Dong…Ding Dang Dong
And there she is.