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A day in a life with Katie.

The ordinary becomes sacred in the presence of a three-year-old

It is 5:30 on a Saturday morning in the early autumn. I gaze bleary-eyed at the clock -- unable to sleep, unwilling to get out of bed. At this moment, life seems relentless and overbearing; too often, I feel like a human cannonball, starting each day with an explosive burst of anxiety that propels me up and out, past job activities and agendas, arcs me faster and higher into more demanding tasks, only gradually losing momentum late in the evening to deposit me with a thud against my pillow. Feeling sorry for myself, I crawl into the cold morning and creak downstairs for a fueling cup of coffee.

It had been a bad night, topping off a bad day and a bad week. My husband and I, recently separated, were enmeshed in the purposeless but inevitable sparring that characterizes marital dissolution. My daughter was napless after a long day at day care -- too tired to play, too tired to eat, too tired to be soothed. The bedtime ritual gave way to a long series of power struggles. Eventually, we kissed goodnight in an uneasy truce, and she slept while I lay awake for a long, long time.

Now, in the grey, pre-dawn light, I slump into a chair with my coffee and reach for the remote control, hoping to catch the news, praying the still silent upstairs will remain so for a few more minutes. No chance.

"MOM!"

A blast from well-developed three-year-old lungs vibrates the frame of the old house.

"MOM! WHAT ARE YOU DOING?"

I play dead and focus determinedly on the weather forecaster's bland grin.

"MOM! I WANT YOU TO COME UPSTAIRS RIGHT NOW!"

The dog, with his ear cocked and more optimism than I have, leads the way up the stairs into the dishevelled bedroom. I stumble over a beheaded Barbie and approach the throne-like bed where my daughter rests in a lazy recline, beckoning me with a smile and an outstretched arm.

"Hi, Mommy!"

"Hi, Katie." I stretch out on the bed beside her. She promptly rolls over to straddle my stomach and begins to play pat-a-cake with my cheeks.

"What are we going to do today, Mommy?"

"Well," I mumble between pats, "I thought we might have a quiet..."

"I know!" She begins to bounce a bit on my abdomen. "How about this? How about if we go downstairs and make cocoa and pancakes, and watch a movie, then get dressed, then go outside, then put on our bathing suits, then go swimming, then go ride the merry-go-round, then eat pizza and ice cream, then play the three little pigs and dress-ups, then take a bubble bath, then go to bed? How about that? Is it a deal?"

I am exhausted just listening. As I begin my alternative suggestions, she leaps out of bed and tags me behind her down the stairs. Another day in a life with Katie has begun.

One of Katie's great strengths is her commitment to an agenda; a second is her taste in television programming. As I putter with pancake batter, she flicks the TV channels past the weather, past MTV, past the home shopping channel before settling on a black-and-white, 1930s Hollywood classic.

After breakfast with Cary Grant, we venture out into a frosty blue autumn morning. We chase each other through the foothills of rustling leaves, alternately tackling each other and tossing up papery red and yellow rainstorms. Nickleby prances and leaps with us, barking and wagging and celebrating the day as only dogs do. We laugh and tumble; the three of us roll over and over on the soft grass, arms and legs and paws intermingling.

Later, we all pile into the car for a drive with no particular destination. It is a glorious day, picture perfect. As I drive, I feel the week's stresses unwinding behind me, and Katie and I sing favourite songs in unconventional harmony. We come to an intriguing place called Pumpkinland, with a scarecrow as big as a tractor and a hayride to a pick-it-yourself pumpkin patch. We stop to explore and, as we step out of the car, our nostrils meet a stout draught of manure.

"Yuck!" Her nose wrinkles so that her freckles almost disappear. "What's that smell?"

"It's manure, Katie."

"What's 'nure?"

"Well, it's fertilizer?'

"What's fertilizer?"

"Um ... it's something that helps plants grow, so the farmers spread it out on the fields."

"What makes it smell so yucky?"

"Well ..."

"Mom! What is it!"

"Cow poop, Katie."

"COW POOP? They put POOP on the PUMPKINS? Why? I don't want any poop on my pumpkin. YUCK!"

I am relieved to see a few smiles on the faces of people passing by us, not so relieved to see wide grins on faces turning toward us from at least 30 feet away. Another of Katie's great strengths is her power of vocal projection; she may be her generation's Ethel Merman. We browse and, after much deliberation, select a perfect, poop-free pumpkin.

On the ride back, I see the sign marking the entrance to Seven Mile Creek and turn into the parking lot. Both child and dog pile out of the car and trail along behind me to the bank of the creek. We find a grouping of rocks warmed by the sun and protected from the breeze, perfect for a few moments of rest. As they quietly investigate nearby, I lean back on my elbows, close my eyes and turn my face to the sun. I feel deeply content.

Suddenly, there is a splash and a squeal. I jerk upright to see Katie's shoes, socks, jeans and panties in a small pile on the creek bank. In the next glance, I spot my daughter and my dog tripping gaily away from me downstream, one small bare bottom and one white-fringed tail held high above the sparkling water and shimmering in the autumn sun.

Before they risk deeper waters, I capture and reinstall them in the car with the heater cranked all the way up. With one giggling, one panting and one shaking her head, we head home.

The remainder of the day is filled with games of pretend involving elaborate dress-ups and plots in which I am costumed, cast and prompted by The Director.

"OK, I'll be the mom and you be the baby. Baby, it's time for your nap. Now, no arguing!

"OK, now I'll be the princess and you be the boy. Oh, my! We'll be late for the ball!

"OK, let's be the three little pigs." Sometimes, Nickleby is drafted into the action. "Quick, here comes the big bad wolf!"

If I balk or protest or, worst of all, instruct her not to jump on the couch or pull Nickleby's tail or threaten to dislocate my little finger, I am haughtily reproved. "I won't invite you to my birthday party!" But if I take direction well, I am rewarded with fierce hugs and robust kisses and am frequently brought presents consisting of found treasures: a marble, a toy wrench, a string of beads lovingly wrapped in a doll's blanket or a tissue or a scarf from the dress-up collection.

After supper (pizza, of course -- another of Katie's great strengths is her infallible memory, particularly concerning her agendas), bedtime moves easily through the ritual of teeth-brushing, jammies and the requisite three books. I tuck the comforter under her chin, and we close our eyes to say a prayer. I go first.

"Dear God, thank you for the gift of loving each other."

She adds, "And, please, God, tell Grandma and Grandpa and my daddy that I love them. And, please, let's go to the merry-go-round tomorrow. And I just want you to know that my mommy is the specialist mommy in the world. Amen."

As I gather her up in my arms for a good-night hug, she says, "Mom, this was a good day, wasn't it?"

"Yes, Katie, a very good day."

"I love you, Mom."

"I love you, too, Katie."

With one last kiss, I turn off the light and go downstairs. I sink into a chair and reach for the TV remote control to catch the news. A soft snuffle from Nickleby, seated at my feet, stops me. I meet his liquid brown eyes and see, reflected there, a serenity that I haven't felt for a long time before today. As I stroke his ears, I think back on this unexpectedly lovely day that I could not have anticipated this morning when I grumbled out of bed. Then, in an easy peace, I go to bed.

At six o'clock the next morning, a small, warm body creeps under the covers to snuggle next to me. Katie entwines her arms around my neck, plants a kiss on my cheek and says in her best Ethel Merman voice, "MOM! What are we going to do today?"

I smile, and thank God for another day in a life with Katie. I reach out to her to hold on for the ride.

Johanna Rian is a former theatre professor and currently works as a grants consultant for Young Audiences of Minnesota.
COPYRIGHT 2001 Presbyterian Record
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2001 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:motherhood
Author:Rian, Johanna
Publication:Presbyterian Record
Date:Jul 1, 2001
Words:1530
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