The living room is gentle in gray walls and we sit in our corners on opposite sides of the room. My daughter is wrapped in a blanket on the couch and I sit across in the striped chair with my coat still on because I’m always cold. We look at each other, same blue eyes, and then I let myself glance away to float on the sun stripes that dissect the floor.
I wish I could crawl into her heart, sometimes, to see what’s there. She’s Rapunzel’s tower, tall and secure. Let down your heart, I call from the ground below. She is kind and nine, a mystery I’m left to solve.
She rubs a lazy hand over the triumphant dog perched on top of the couch, and her face is soft with private affection. Her lips curl over braces we just paid for and that puffy mouth makes her look like a baby. She murmurs something to the dog, then pulls out the bobby pin that holds her growing-out bangs and shoves it into the loose-weave of the blanket. I open my mouth, check myself.
I am driven, though I wish to God I wasn’t. She is a dreamer and I remember being a dreamer once, too. If I let myself, I can still summon childish surprise at the physical world, feel the solid return to pavement after flying.
Now I press hard on the lid of the snake-in-a-can inside, hoping all the striving, and teaching, and trying, and dying will stay contained. Yes, I teach my daughter but what does she learn? I stare at her face to capture a glimpse of the truth before it darts away, that silver fish that eludes my net.
What I want to ask her is this: Am I too much for you? Will you keep dreaming? Is my shushing and smoothing and fussing and judging and defining ruining you? Because I can only be me, and Jesus changes people, but sometimes he goes slow. So?
But what comes out of my mouth is, Tell me something.
My daughter tilts her head to one side and says, Like what? Then I tell her to give me advice on what kids need. But what I need is to take our pulse, hers and mine.
She thinks, then says, “My advice is to go outside everyday if the weather lets you. And dogs are important. They are the best part of the day.”
Well, this isn’t what I meant, though a part of me is relieved.
“Also, it feels bad when you correct me. I remember it, but it fades.” She pauses.
Here comes everything else, I think.
“I know one thing,” she says. “People should let their kids sew.”
She smiles at me and shrugs. My heart contracts. I still don’t know what she thinks of her mother, but right now I don’t care.