What Have I Done?

kuplink, kuplank, kuplunk! I read with the sincere enthusiasm of a mother that has just consumed a dark and very strong cup of coffee. It is bedtime. Reed studies the navy drawings, perched on top of her folded legs, listening. She cradles her tiny chin in her tinier hands, holding her head, facing forward. Her overly active (but completely irresistible) eyebrows move with the rhythm of the page turns. Her eyes focus on the bear, or is she looking at the letters, trying to figure out how they are put together and read? She glances over at me as I take a breath, afraid I'll quit in the middle. She poses the frequent and repetitive question, "mommy, what's Sal dooooooooooin'?" (You would understand the extra O's if you have ever heard her cadence, inherited from some long lost southern ancestor, I am sure.) I try to explain to her that if she listens to the story quietly, her questions will be answered. She understands, for the moment, and pensively awaits a conclusion. It is my favorite book from my own childhood and although we've read it 216 times before, she is finally starting to follow the story and understand the relationships therein.

As she studies the pages, I am stunned into silence. The expression of fear returns to her elfish face. I try and continue but my voice is weak. "Kuplink, kuplank..." I try. She finishes, "kuplunk!" with the enthusiasm of a child who is savoring the last few minutes of consciousness, togetherness.

I am awestruck and breathless and just a little confused by how she, came from me. I observe her beauty in perfect contrast with her silliness, attitude, intellect, and incredible heart. She looks at me with eyes that no one color can describe. They are the color of where the sparkly sea meets the sand (in Tortola, my husband would say). Her little nose is like a tiny playground slide, sloping downward and gently curved. Her lips are pink, like Watermelon Bubble Yum. They are the lips we all drew on our princesses in elementary school. So curvy and pouty and perfect. As I so obviously admire her, she turns with a wrinkled forehead, smirks and reaches to push my hair from in front of my eyes, willing me to continue with the story. I oblige. I am shocked to find a little girl next to me. A little girl that I love, inexplicably. A little girl that I admire, so totally.

If I complain about anything, even a hangnail, she asks for the next hour, "Mommy, you okay?"

Sometimes she calls me, "Moms" and I love it.

Sometimes she abbreviates previously un-abbreviatable words. The other day, I asked her if she wanted a banana. She said, "Maybs." Like, short for "maybe."

She says, "Thank you, mommy" every time we sit down for lunch or dinner, even if it is cheese quesadillas for the fourth day in a row.

She prefers to be barefoot.

She almost never wants to be held or comforted when she's hurt but instead walks away from me repeating, "I fine. I fine," as huge, clear teardrops fall from her red eyes.

She gets her brother's juice for him in the mornings before she even touches her own cup.

She has an obsession with lotion that has lasted more than half of her life. She used to call it, "Shosion," and I'm sort of sorry she learned how to say it correctly.

When she wants attention, she speaks in foreign accents. Generally, she gets at least one laugh.

She has the geekiest camera smile but, when she smiles from happiness, it renders me speechless. While I was making dinner the other night, Jason was chasing her in circles around the house, threatening the arrival of, "The Tickle Monster." She pulled and pulled on my pants, shrieking, until I finally acknowledged her. She looked up at me and shouted, "Daddy's chasing me!" As if I hadn't noticed. Her tiny face was overwhelmed by happiness, so much so that it stretched the sides of her mouth as high as her cheeks would allow. I have filed that smile away in the Rolodex in my brain. It was so pure and complete, without question. It makes me weak in the knees, even as I type. If I'm lucky and my Rolodex works properly, I will be able to recall that face and that moment for years and years and years.

She never walks, she dances to the music in her head, from place to place.

After listening to Lady Gaga (Bad Romance) twice, she floats around the house singing, "Rah Rah Rome Ma Ma. Ga Ga Ooh La La. Let's see the bad mens." (Making up lyrics as her mother always has.)

When we play in her kitchen, she makes coffee for mommy and daddy. "Daddy likes looooooots of sugar and some cream. Mommy likes just a little bit of milk." I'm amazed at her attention to detail because we certainly did not conduct a lesson of how mommy and daddy take their coffee.

Her frequent demands include, "Let Reedy do it," "I wanna do it," "I can do it myself," usually referring to some task that far outmatches her skill level. After trying for more minutes than I like to sit around waiting, she hands over the project and calmly requests, "Mommy, help puuuuuuhhhlease." I love that she takes the opportunity to be independent. I love that she knows that I will be there if she needs me. I respect that she can ask.

She has mastered the English language in a way I thought was impossible for children under the age of ten. She is aware of tenses and correctly uses most pronouns.

She may very well be in love with Micheal Jackson and has "perfected" the moonwalk.

When you scoop her up, she gently pats your back for the following minute. Consistent and calming.

Her kindness softens me. Her intellect impresses me. Her will challenges me. Her beauty inspires me.

"What have I done?" I've spent much of my life asking myself that question. I've hurt people. I've ignored what should have been priority. I've been terribly irresponsible and disrespectful and neglectful. I've been callous with friends' feelings and regarded family as if they were disposable. I've lied, a lot. I have been reckless and I have treated life with a nauseating sense of invincibility. "What have I done?" For years, it was a disturbing rhetorical echo in my head. I vaguely recall that person now. I suppose the memory is clouded by shame.

"What have I done?" It no longer haunts me, but the question is the same. I now have the answer. She gave me peace when I was anxious. She enforced structure and values. She demands honesty, kindness, ambition, acceptance, loyalty, generosity, and respect because I want her to be all of those things and I want her to learn them from me. She gave me purpose when I had none. She gives me love.

In the midst of admiration and love and stuck in between respect and pride lurks another emotion, commonly muddled by the more prominent ones. But, I'm starting to see it. I know now why I am sitting on the braided rug on her bedroom floor unable to complete a book I know by heart, while she stares at me, befuddled by my silence. I finally recognize it. It is gratitude. It hits me and knocks me over.

When the numbness leaves my tongue and my throat opens up, dry words creep out of my gut and I quietly whisper, "Thank you, Reedy. Thank you."

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