I KNOW it's hard to believe, but we do struggle with such boring tasks as doing something the first time mom or dad asks. We have an even harder time remembering that the tone of voice we use is as important as the words we say. So, in the line of positive reinforcement when a little girl's behavior manages to catch up to such lofty expectations as politeness and generosity and thoughtfulness, we have a plan.
Something that's simpler than a sticker chart and easier to follow through with. Something that has a pleasing sound attached to it:
A jar full of beads.
If I hear a kind word or an argument averted? Plink plink into the jar.
If a sister listens the very first time I ask her to clean up the Barbie dolls? Plink into the jar.
If sharing happens spontaneously? Plink plink plink into the jar.
It can be purely subjective to my whims and therefore constantly teaching. And when the jar is full of bright beads, there'll be a surprise! What is it mama, what IS IT?!? Well the truth is that I don't know yet. I've got ideas, but that's the fun of this particular reward -- it's unknown and therefore magical. So far, my ideas are a trip to the bouncy-house, an ice-cream date, a sleepover....something along those lines.
Of course, the downside is that when there is misbehavior, we lose a bead. Or eight beads in a row, if the day is particularly fraught with tension. Oh, the drama that ensues when a bead is lost...
In the school cafeteria, I help herd Kindergartners into their places. Some of them walk forward with heads turned sideways, the better to catch an eyefull of all the activity and movement in the large room. Some of them bounce in place as if they've too much energy to waste on food. Some of them shuffle nervously, wondering how to hide from all of this Kindergarten mayhem.
As they settle into their seats, I help open cartons of milk or bottles of juice. I retrieve napkins and encourage actual food consumption. Sometimes, if there's a need, I sit next to a crying 5-year-old, hugging him and rubbing his back until his jolting sobs are spent. The cafeteria is so very big and requires so very much, you see. The classroom is bad enough, but the cafeteria? Frightful.
Across a few tables, Mia catches my eye. She catches my eye no matter where she is, actually; she is like a glowing beacon in any room. Bright and lovely and mine. I wink at her as she smiles, and the wink incites a blur of motion from her assigned seat. She bounces up and down, thrusting her arms in my direction as if she could stretch far enough to encircle me with a hug. Go-go-gadget-daughter.
I wave and get back to the business of milk-opening. I feel her eyes on me as I go.
Moving between the close tables is difficult; my belly bumps into the backs of heads as I turn, and children stare as I pass. Some brave souls ask why I look this way, and I want to say, because I'm so full of love that it just has nowhere else to go. I tell them that there's a baby in this belly, and they nod knowingly.
Finally, at Mia's table, her friends need help and I oblige. My child-sized, snub-nosed scissors snip gogurt packages and beef jerky cellophane. I try to move down the row diligently, but there's a tiny hand gripping my arm. Mia's wrapping herself -- as bodily as possible -- around my forearm, anchoring me to her side. She pulls me closer until I can nuzzle her hair with my nose, and we hug for a quick moment. A moment of ownership and pride and love. I disentangle myself; a girl across the row needs help with her chocolate milk.
Mia bounces and reaches, still. She smiles at the game of it. I can reel her in with this smile...these eyes...these arms.
And she can. Throughout the whirlwind of lunch, I keep darting back to her, planting a kiss here, squeezing a hand there. She kisses my arm before I move away.
When it's over, she skips out the door to recess and I run/waddle to catch her. She hugs me tightly and I sniff her hair one last time.
In the cafeteria, I help to make sure kids have picked up their trash and are headed towards the playground. I wash my hands and walk to the car. The playground is teeming with darting, dashing, screaming life. I can't spot Mia: she's one tiny girl in a sea of tiny people.
But I can still feel her tight grip and smell her hair if I close my eyes and concentrate.
At home, the house is quiet and lonely. I could get a lot done if I put my mind to it in the few minutes I have left before I need to go get Lauren from preschool. Instead, I stare out the window at the way the pear tree's leaves are dancing on the wind. My stare tends to fall out of focus until all I see are blurs of green and brown and blue.
I step over to the beads. I gather up an indiscriminate handful of plastic pieces, and scatter them into the jar's mouth. Plinkplinkplinkplinkplink....
Because if the beads are at my whim, I might as well distribute them for such tiny, immemorial, everyday things such as love. Which I am so full of that I'm sure this is actually why my belly is so round.