My excuse for telling my 9 year old daughter who she should marry is that I was delirious. It happened as she was kissing me good night and tucking me in. I get up at 2 am for my job, so my children put me to bed each night.
Before you picture sweet hugs and giggles and “Sleep tight, Mommy –,”don’t.
It’s more like, “Get out of my room. I love you, too. Get OUT of my room. Give me my sleep mask. Put down the remote. Get O-U-T!”
My kids don’t do anything wrong. They’re just kids, which means they’re relentless and needy and demanding and care not a whit that I’m about to fall over from sleep deprivation. (Note to self: I should have milked this stage of my childhood more. It’s a narcissistic Narnia.)
A few nights ago, my 9 year old daughter was sitting on the edge of my bed, and for once I wasn’t frantically conducting child-from-room-evacuation.
“I miss daddy,” she said. Daddy would return in ten minutes from dropping her brother at hockey practice. Her missing him was because she couldn’t wait. On this night, with mom passed out and her brother away, the two of them would play ‘church’ or ‘teacher,’ my poor husband always the student or the church goer. I had laughed when he told me how she would preach or sing at the top of her lungs and how he’d turn to the imaginary person next to him and murmur, “She’s really something, isn’t she?”
“You need to marry someone like your daddy.” I was picturing her father being the obedient student/churchgoer when I said it. I knew he was exhausted, that he’d rather watch Sports Center with his precious 25 minutes before he had to get in the car again.
My daughter leaned in and wrapped her arms around my bent leg, balancing her delicate face on my kneecap.
“How will I know?”
The depth of her question floored me. How will she know?
I could have pointed out her dad’s wonderful qualities — how he treats me like I’m still his youthful bride, how he notices what I do for our family and tells me how much he appreciates it, how he is one of the most well liked people I know, how he is a helper in his community, how he wears his heart and faith on his sleeve, how he walks in the back door of our house every night, no matter how hard the day, armed with a wide smile and kisses all around. He is the only man who can smooth out the edges in his edgy wife. He is also the only person in the house who is the finder of all things lost (stuffed bunnies, video games, hockey tape, homework, his wife’s iphone/car keys/earrings).
But that’s not what I said to my daughter.
“Well, sometimes you figure it out by being with the wrong people first.”
“What?” She knit her brows together.
“You have to be with people not like your daddy before you find someone who is.. ”
She jerked upright like I had just spat at her. “Well, I’m not going to do that!”
I nodded. “I know, but you probably will. We all do. You won’t marry the first man you like.”
Now she was standing, disgusted, little hands propped on narrow hips. “Well, I’m not going to date the wrong people, mommy. Geez.”
To be clear, geez in this context means, “you idiot.”
And that, my friends, is why I have written this. You are proof this conversation happened. I will resurrect this essay when she brings home the boy who churns my stomach, or worse, the one who will break her heart.
I will do my best to understand, even commiserate. It seems another lifetime, yet I can still recall the exquisite agony delivered to me by boys “not worthy of me” (so said my mother).
Then there is the thing that she can’t know until it happens to her. The wonder of being found, of having that right person arrive, able to see beyond the mess that is you, recognizing that you are their home and they have made it.
The path to that place is not an easy one, but it is worth every heart busted-up moment. It makes you realize Mount Everest is an ant hill compared to the learning curve that is life.
I excel at errors. I’m a master mistake maker — my life one of constant course correction, each failure an opportunity for grace. I just won’t be getting any grace from the 9 year old.
She leaned over to kiss me, a chaste, quick, I’m-disappointed-in-you kiss, the silk of her long red pony tail sliding across my cheek.
“I’m not doing that, Mommy.”
She heard the back door open and slowly stepped away from the bed, her ‘I’m not doing that’ face still in place. Then she turned, and with a dismissive over-the-shoulder wave, was gone, off to play church with the first, best man she would ever know.