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When I picked Bear up from daycare on Monday of this week, one of the high school girls who helps out there after school looked at me and said, “She was hitting kids today.  A lot.”

We have had several occasions when I’ve received “Incident Reports” upon picking Bear up from daycare, and each time, I think, “Oh no.  My child caused an Incident.”  Every time, however, I am strangely relieved to learn that Bear has been the incident victim instead.  Bear must have learned to fight back this week, because surely any hitting from my sweet, innocent little girl would only be in self-defense.

On Monday night, my husband and I talked with Bear about how it was not nice to hit other kids and how she didn’t like when they hit her.  She quietly listened to us with big eyes, seemingly absorbing the meaning of our words.  The next morning, I asked Bear, “Do you promise not to hit anyone at school today?”  She replied with a definitive “yes.”

When I picked Bear up from daycare, I asked if Bear had hit anyone.  “Oh no,” replied the high school girl.  Before I could congratulate Bear, she added, “She scratched someone instead.”

I am going to have to expand the terms of our agreement next time.

“Writing is effortless when we are alive to the world,” according to Julie Jordan Scott.  This is partly why I write.  Not necessarily because it feels effortless, but because it causes me to take pause and become alive to the world.

My daughter is fascinated by the outside world.  She desires nothing more than to frolic in the grass, paint the driveway with long strokes of water, or run wildly down the street away from the safe arms of her mother.  Lately, when I bring her home in the evenings after work, her lips immediately form the loose word, “owside.”    During our days home together, it is the first word she speaks after gulping her morning milk or being roused from afternoon nap.  I can hardly blame her.  I too feel most alive outside, particularly on an early fall day such as this one.

This morning, we met two new friends at a nearby park.  My daughter squealed with unbridled joy when she saw the playground.  She ran to a rocking horse; her new shoes hitting the rough ground with the unpracticed steps of a sixteen month-old.  She slapped the cool metal with her palms and listened to the delicious sound.  “Up!” she ordered.  I swiped at the remnants of last night’s rain on the horse’s saddle with the sleeve of my jacket.  “Up!” she demanded of me again, and I complied.  Once astride the horse, she threw her body forward and backward in quick jerks, and the horse followed.  She already knew what to do.

I am always amazed when my daughter shows me that she exists outside of me and my time with her.  If it weren’t for moments like these, I would have convinced myself that her experience with the world pauses while I am away.

She enjoyed similar, exuberant encounters with the swings, the slide, and a merry-go-round.  Later, at music class, she lifted her legs high as I lifted her into the air, enabling her to “jump” while the other children and their mothers sang their hellos to her.  I watched as she flirted with the teacher; coquettishly smiling and then hiding her eyes.  She would run to a cement pillar in the room, slapping her arms around it in a bear hug and watching me with happy eyes.  Then, she would gleefully yell, “Mommy” and dart back to me, faithfully throwing her entire body into my arms certain that I would catch her.  She repeated this throughout the entire “quiet time” that the teacher insisted upon.

I didn’t care that my daughter refused to be quiet.  I love hearing my daughter shout my name with such admiration.  I love watching her run back to me, and I love holding her close for a few moments when she wants me near.

Now, she lies in her crib speaking unintelligible words to herself or to her “babies.”  Which, I am unsure.  Our nervous dog paces back and forth across the wood floor of my bedroom across the hall, clicking loudly, and occasionally, I hear my daughter shout, “Doggy!”  She may not nap today.

My soul still feels peaceful, however, until I receive a call from work reminding me of something that was left unfinished.  I never seem to have enough time at work or at home and momentarily, I allow myself to feel burdened by a place that I did not plan to revisit until Monday.  My daughter’s muffled jabbering has grown quieter and more intermittent.  Perhaps, she will sleep after all.  I lean my head back, appreciate the breeze from the open window blowing across my bare feet and exhale sharply in an attempt to push that other world away from here back into its separate place.  “Mommy!” I hear cried feverishly from across the hall, and I am thankful that I am able to live in both worlds rather than only the other one.

This weekend, my daughter showed me that she can think outside of the box.

By thinking outside of the box, she found a comfortable place to sit when she needed to rest.

She embraced creativity when the whim struck her.

And, she found a step up when she needed help reaching her goal.

I can learn a lot from my daughter.

odd man out, originally uploaded by Terwilliger911, Creative Commons, Flickr.

Today, before Bear’s music class, I sat between two friends (one closer than the other) as they discussed a new place that one of them had “private messaged” the other about on Facebook, and I listened as they discussed taking their two little ones there together sometime. I felt that I was in the middle of a conversation that they should be having elsewhere, particularly if they were not going to include me in it. Uncomfortable, I physically shifted backward to give them a clear line of vision. Still, they did not include me, and then the class began.

After the class, another woman who has been in previous classes with me, my two friends, and our babies took one of my friends aside to discuss something that they were going to do together. Earlier in the summer, my other friend mentioned taking her son to a play date with this other woman’s daughter.

I know that I shouldn’t be offended. Obviously, we are all adults, and we are all free to choose who we want to spend time with. Particularly, in the past, this other woman has made numerous passive-aggressive comments about her daughter’s lack of hair and walking. Since my daughter has quite a bit of hair and walks very well, I felt like she was comparing our daughters, and it made me uncomfortable and a little sad for the other little girl whose mommy didn’t seem to be content with what she had. I shouldn’t be surprised that this woman has not sought me out as a companion. Frankly, I shouldn’t even care.

But, I do. I feel a little like the kid who wasn’t invited to the birthday party with all of her friends, and I hate that feeling.

When I was ten, I remember being acutely aware that most of the girls in my class had been invited to one of our classmate’s birthday parties. I was not close friends with the birthday girl, but being from a small, rural community, most everyone was invited to every birthday party, and she had been invited to mine. My mother concluded that it was not possible that I had not been invited and that the invitation must have been sent to our old farmhouse rather than the one where we currently lived. So, despite the cold, wet day, she strapped my younger brother into our 1984 Blazer, and we began battling the snowy, muddy road for the two-mile journey to the farmhouse. Once there, I sadly discovered that my wonderful and couragous mother was wrong. No invitation waited for me in the mailbox. Unhappily, we began the trip back only to become hopelessly stuck in a ditch before we could reach home. I remember walking through the cold, wet mud and crying less about the slight of the birthday party and more about the feeling that I had somehow failed my mother.

Despite this experience, I always had close friends throughout my childhood. I have no actual memories of “making” these friends, however. For whatever reason, we were always friends. I made a few close friends in college, and with many nearby acquaintances, I was not lonely. That was the nature of college.

After law school and marriage and the start of work, my husband and I wondered if there weren’t multitudes of other couples “out there” who already knew each other and spent a lot of time together socially. If there were, they weren’t doing it with us. We finally decided that social relationships outside of the school environment, particularly after marriage, were meant to be different. I assumed though that once we had kids, we’d begin forming friendships with other couples who fell into the same phase of life as we did. Now, I’m wondering if maybe I just don’t know how to make friends. Maybe I’ve forgotten, or maybe I never knew.

At ten years-old, I realized that the sting that I felt at not having been invited to a birthday party had very little to do with my desire for a friendship with the birthday girl. I did not want to be left out. Being overlooked seems to say something about one’s self, and one’s importance to others. Perhaps now, I’m looking to the wrong people for friendships. I just wish that I was grown up enough to remember the difference between the two.

Bear has hair.  Not just wispy little bits of hair that you would expect to find on a thirteen month-old, but long, ringlets of hair that she can pull into her mouth from either side and from the top of her head.    When I had an ultrasound at 37 weeks to determine if I was having a giant baby (I was), we could see clumps of hair floating around her upside-down head.

For the most part, Bear wears her hair like it’s her crowning glory.  She plays with it.  She pulls on it.  She runs her fingers through it before she falls asleep.  And, it does bring her quite a bit of attention.  Strangers will walk up to us in stores to comment on her hair (and the fact that she is pretty darn cute besides). 

But, it does cause us some difficulty.  With the exception of her curls, her hair is very much like my own:  thick, light reddish-brown, and unruly.  Other children at daycare pull on it, because they haven’t learned not to yet.  I occasionally experience jealous comments from other moms with very cute but bald babies, and Bear has to suffer through my clumsy attempts every morning to pull her hair into a pony tail on the top of her head.  Then, she has to suffer again through my attempts to take it down every night.  She also is easy fodder for bored daycare workers looking for a “doll” to play with, like the day she came home with six pony tails sprouting in different directions all over her head.  She looked like one of those creepy doll heads from my childhood that enabled little girls to practice make-up and hairstyles on something other than their dogs and little brothers.  Try explaining to a one year-old why you are ripping out hair after tangled hair in an attempt to remove six rubber bands from her head?

Aside from our daily torturous hairstyling sessions, Bear gets her hair washed every other day or so.  I have tried every method that I can think of to wash her hair without it ending in screaming and tears (hers and mine).  I’ve held her shoulders and head and slowly lowered her into the water.  This results in her flailing about and of course, crying.  I’ve tried using the specially-made bucket with a lip, but she now cowers at the sight of it.  When using it, she flings her head forward after I have dumped the water causing a lot of water to pour back down her face and into her eyes, obviously achieving the opposite effect than what was intended.  I’ve even made attempts at distraction and entertainment by maniacally singing made-up songs in hopes that she will stop wailing and look at me like I’m crazy.  Unfortunately, nothing seems to result in an effortless shampoo.

I have seen pictures and videos of a young me running around with huge tangles and ratted clumps on the back of my head.  It was not that my mother didn’t take care of me.  She tried mightily, I have no doubt.  But, I am realizing that just as Bear has inherited my light reddish-brown hair, she also has inherited my will (and tender head).  I went through a period where I refused to allow anyone to brush my hair, because it hurt.  At the time, I had no way of appreciating my mother’s efforts to make me look presentable, but as I attempt to maintain my little daughter’s hair, I am quickly learning that it is no small feat.  Someday, when she looks at pictures of herself and asks, “Mom, why did you let me run around with the hair of a wild woman?”  I will respond, “Just wait…”