Nurture, Nature and “Into the Woods”.

Yesterday was a big day.

My son woke up late, as a treat, and my daughter followed me into his room to change his morning diaper.

“Today is the day!” she beamed.

“I know! Today is the cookie party!” I answered, referring to our plans for the special Pollyanna party with our best friends.

“No!” She cried. “Today, Bubbie and Zeydie come home from St. John!”

My parents have been away for two weeks. Despite our best efforts to make up for our missed trip, she missed her grandparents an extraordinary amount.

They spoke on the phone every day, and, evidently, on one such conversation, hatched a plan for her to have a sleepover at their house on the night of their return. It didn’t matter that they wouldn’t land until nearly 5:30, when we usually start bedtime at 6, or that they had just been gone for two weeks and had a long day of travel; they all needed this date.

She counted down the hours.

Fortunately, she was able to fill her day with plenty of fun; a trip to the library to see zoo animals and out to lunch with her friend (who, as of yesterday, may be her boyfriend. There was a kiss.); our Pollyanna party with a house filled with best friends and more cookies than any of of us could count.

But she had her eye on the prize.

I got a text from my dad shortly after five letting me know that they had landed and I told my daughter.

She threw her hands up in the air and shouted, “I’m free!”

(Whatever that means.)

When the party broke up, she went up to her room and she packed her suitcase with care, and the help of her GodMama , who had stuck around post-party,

as my husband drove to get my parents from the airport and her godfather and I cleaned up the kitchen.

And, finally, after a seemingly endless two weeks, Bubbie and Zeydie walked through our front door. Both of my kids freaked out, but the excitement between my parents and my daughter was incredible. With barely a glance behind her, she went off to their house for their date.

I didn’t hear from her the rest of the night (except for a quick call to say “Goodnight”) but I did follow her evening on Instagram, courtesy of my dad.

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First, there was a bubble bath; then, spooky stories in Bubbie and Zeydie’s bed; then morning episodes of “Scooby Doo” in bed and making pancakes with Zeydie and doing laundry with Bubbie.

She was so happy, as for her, my parents are a part of her sense of home. 

I was up in my bedroom with my son when she got home. I heard small footsteps coming up the stairs and heard my door open slowly.

“Your missing puzzle piece is back!” she said, and climbed onto the bed and into my arms.

How could one child hold so much wisdom; so much love?

From where does she get these things?

“How was your time?” I asked.

“Amazing.” She said, telling me stories, some true, some potentially “elaborated”, like shaving with Zeydie (true), playing the Mermaid game with Bubbie (true) and staring at her brother’s picture and wanting to cry but being able to take a deep breath to hold back the tears (ummmm…).

And she is right; my missing puzzle piece is back. But so are my other missing puzzle pieces. Because as much as I am a grown up, it is nice to have my parents back, around the corner.

And then, today, I met another parenting milestone; I took my daughter to the movies all by myself. This is something that most parents with children my daughter’s age have probably done with great ease and frequency, but for me, it was a marker of how far I have come in the past year. This week a year ago I was at my lowest. Today, I was a grown up, a mom, sharing a popcorn and Sour Patch Kids with my little girl, so that I could expose her to one of my all-time favorite musicals that has been made into a movie.

If you have been a reader here from the beginning, you may recall that at four months old, I showed my daughter the filmed stage version of “Into the Woods” with Bernadette Peters and the kid was mesmerized. One point for “Nature” there.

When I found out that it was being made into a movie (and with some of my favorite actors) I (not surprisingly) freaked out and had awaited it’s release eagerly. And I decided that I would try, today, to take my daughter to see this movie with me.

She and I often watch clips from the aforementioned filmed stage version, as she loves the opening number and “Moments in the Woods”. For that particular choice, we may give a point to “Nurture”.

I found myself extremely emotional during the film. First of all, I thought it was excellent. Second of all, the music is incredibly evocative for me and “The Baker’s Wife” is my dream role. But, most poignantly, I was hit with a case of the feels every time that the movie made a point about parenthood. There I was, my daughter snuggled up next to me in a dark theater, listening to Meryl Streep singing,

Careful the things you say
Children will listen
Careful the things you do
Children will see
And learn
And then I was brought back to my earlier thoughts in bed this morning, when my daughter came bursting in after her sleepover. She made the declaration about being my “missing puzzle piece” because she has heard me say that before, in passing, and it stuck with her.
The funny thing is, I have even written about that particular exchange with her, and yet I did not quite grasp the weight our words have on these little (big) ears.
Lately, in my personal life, I have been writing and reflecting a lot about parenthood. I am honored that I have the chance to raise two human beings and humbled by the responsibility.
Why does my daughter sing with a natural vibrato at 4 years old?
Well, quite honestly, it probably has to do with some biological gifts. But it is also likely the result of her hearing me sing, every single day of her life, and that is how I sound.
Last week, in trying to teach her about having gratitude in a season when we are given so much, I told her something that affected her deeply;
I told her that despite the fact that she is kept warm by a scarf, hat and gloves every day, as a given, there are other children who will hope to receive these luxuries as holiday presents; that some will not receive them at all.
And that was my attempt to try to Nurture her into a good, caring, empathetic person.
But I saw the look on her face. I saw her eyes grow wide and fill up and her chin shake.
When she spoke, it was slowly, and it took a long time for her to get the words out.
“When you tell me these things mommy, they make my heart cry. And when my heart cries, it makes me want to cry. Can we not talk about it anymore?”
And that, I am sure, is Nature, as she has the same sensitivity that my husband and I both share, as we are both extremely reactive to any tales of suffering, past or present.
So today, the movie reminded me of many things,
including my passion for musical theater, the brilliance of Sondheim and how nice it is to get out and see a movie in the theater.
But, it also reminds me, and I write this, once again, with tears filling my eyes, that we are responsible for shaping these little people and that I have to continue to fight hard, do good and try my best.
There is plenty that I don’t do right, because either I am incapable or ignorant or too weak.
But the fact that my daughter knows that she is a puzzle piece–
a salient piece of our family’s structure–that without her we would be incomplete–
makes me think that there is at least something,
one thing
that I am doing right.

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