This afternoon, like every other day, I sat in my car waiting for my 7-year- old daughter to be dismissed from school. And I prayed.
I did deep-breathing techniques. I mentally reviewed excerpts from “Raising Your Spirited Child.” I meditated on how I would lovingly welcome her home after a long day and NOT criticize, no matter how grumpy or moody she was.
I’ve read that moms are their kids’ safe place and all of the pent-up frustration of being on their best behavior for the entire school day causes our children’s real emotions to come rushing out as soon as they lock eyes with us in the parking lot. I get it. But just because I understand doesn’t make it any easier for me to handle the daily onslaught of not-even-yet-pre-adolescent angst.
And so, I arranged my biggest smile and prepared for the worst. Healthy, I know.
You can imagine, then, my surprise when I was met with my girl’s radiant, megawatt smile, although half-blocked by the giant cardboard box which she attempted to balance as she opened the car door.
“Hi Sweetie!” I exclaimed, with an authenticity I haven’t felt in too long.
“What’s in the box?”
I gingerly took a peek. A tiny yellow duckling peered back at me with shiny black eyes.
My daughter’s green ones were equally bright.
“Can we keep him? My teacher lets!”
I stammered a response, hemmed and hawed about where he’d stay, and then, since I was in the bus lane and cars were honking, said, “oh, what the heck”, and hoisted our new 6th family member into the car.
Aside from a minor incident on the way home in which our furry friend hopped into the baby’s car seat as I was buckling her in and almost put me into cardiac arrest, prompting a concerned, “Everything OK there?” from a fellow mom, we arrived home safe and sound.
I braced myself for my daughter’s usual hangry attack upon entering the house, and the inevitable, un-instigated, altercation with her younger sister. Instead, I was delighted to see my daughter bring her backpack to her room (without being asked!), and then proceed to gently set the duck’s box down on the living room floor, and calmly lift him out.
I watched in awe as she happily introduced her new friend to her excited little sister, and took great care to ensure our baby wouldn’t get too close to the duck – for both of their sakes!
After a while of the girls playing sweetly with their adorable pet, my daughter asked politely if she could go outside and search for a larger box to make him more comfortable.
During the hour when she’d usually be ignoring my requests for help for the umpteenth time, and picking petty fights with her siblings, my “challenging” child was displaying an empathy and decorum usually only seen in the presence of a hefty bribe (no judgement, please!) Not wanting to scare off this unicorn, I silently nodded and secretly wondered why I hadn’t thought of this magic years ago.
Later, when some neighbors stopped by to visit, they were warmly introduced to DuckDuck (as in Goose, from the game), and offered to pet and hold him. I even heard my girl gregariously explaining to her rapt audience how ducks’ eyelids close from the bottom up, and how they are not allowed to eat bread, contrary to popular belief.
Suddenly, while making dinner, I looked up to see my daughter crying.
“Well, that was short-lived”, I grumbled to myself as I felt resentment burn my throat. Groaning, I gathered the fortitude to address what is usually the first of many nightly emotional outbursts.
Kids like my oldest – these wild, wonderful, labelled-too-many-acronyms-to-count, beings are just MORE. They feel more, they hurt more – they are MORE demanding to raise. For me, anyway. And for the first time, I understood that there’s a flipside to every coin: When I asked my daughter why she was sad, and how I could help, she responded that she was bawling her eyes out because she realized her duck is not meant to be in solitude.
“He misses his Mommy, and his other 11 ducks back at school”, she sniffed.
I caressed her tear-stained cheeks, touched by this raw compassion, and agreed that we probably do not have the most optimal living conditions for a baby duck.
“Let’s just call it a sleepover and bring him back tomorrow”, I suggested.
“Or we could get a second duck!”, she grinned, with her signature wit.
Having calmed down (in record time!), she then proceeded to take SnapChat pictures with her duck, play music for him, make him a cozy bed, and eat dinner while cuddling that yellow fluff ball in her lap.
During bath time, more behavioral exceptions ensued! My girl was soaped, rinsed, and pajama-clad without even needing to be urged to get into the shower — because she didn’t want her duck to miss her!
Finally, after what seemed like the hundredth book and cuddle, my daughter began her frequent descents from the top bunk (you know the drill 🙂 ) under the guise of “needing to check on my duck”. But somehow, tonight, it was less irritating.
I’m going to miss that little guy when we return him to school tomorrow morning. I hope the lessons he taught me about my girl’s true character last infinitely longer than his stay.