I wrote this post two days ago, when the world seemed very slightly less dark, and then – as the moon moved directly in front of the sun and blocked its light – decided that I couldn’t post it, because reflecting upon my daughter’s tyrannical approach to love scraped all the wrong nerves on a day without light. But then she got sick, very sick, yesterday and I spent too many hours pacing the hospital floor, gripped with worry, waiting for her to lift her head and say anything, anything at all, anything to show us that she was fine, that she would be fine, and when she finally did lift her head she said this: WHERE IS DADDY I WANT DADDY NOT YOU MOMMY, DADDY.
And my heart leapt, happy to have her back with any measure of her imperious glory.
Which is why I post this now. In gratitude.
I hear the thump-thump-thump of her little feet as she advances down the hallway toward the bathroom. I listen from my cocoon of bubbles as she stops outside the door, hesitating for the briefest moment before turning the handle and opening the door just wide enough to slip through, a wisp in pink flannel pajamas, squinting against the glare of the bathroom light.
Mommy? I have to go poo.
That’s okay, sweetie. Can you manage on your own? I sit up in the tub and offer my hand to steady her. She ignores me. She yanks her pajama bottoms down with one hand and hoists her half-naked self up onto the toilet seat with the other. I slouch back into my bubbles.
She leans forward and rest her elbows on her knees and her chin in her hands, a thinker smaller than Rodin ever imagined. Mommy?
I don’t love you.
– Not at all?
Not all the time. Only when you do fun things.
– Did we do fun things today?
– Did we do fun things yesterday?
– When do you not love me?
Some of the other time.
– When do you love Daddy?
All of the time.
– And why do you not love me all of the time?
Because I only love you some of the time.
– That hurts my feelings.
Okay. Dramatic sigh. I love you most of the time.
I debate whether or not to press her on this. I know that if I ask for a more fulsome declaration of love, I’ll get one. I also know that she’ll try to extract a price.
I decide that I’m fine with that.
And if you ask me for something tonight – like maybe will I stay in your bedroom with you, and read you an extra story? – and I tell you that I don’t want to, because I’m hurt that you only love me some of the time…?
Then I will tell you that I love you all of the time.
We sit – I in my bath, she on her porcelain throne – and think about this.
We have stop talking now, she says, because I’m going to do my poo.
And she did. While I sat in my rapidly cooling bath, watching the bubbles deflate around me and marveling at my little empress, setting her boundaries, defining her terms. Letting my heart feel its hurt, and then letting it go and watching it swirl down the drain in a little flush of pride.