Smooky books, smooky stories, smooky movies. That’s Little Friend’s current request: things that spook (or smook), scare, and go bump in the night. This same little girl who feels it necessary to determine the gender lines of names (“Is Rosemary a boy name or a girl name?” she proceeds cautiously, lest she inadvertently select a testosterone-tainted moniker for a stuffed animal), somehow has no qualms skipping merrily into the rather unladylike territory of scary things: spiders, bears, wolves, snakes, dragons, bats, and monsters.
The smookier the better.
In her innocence, she doesn’t exactly plumb the truly terrifying depths of smooky things. For example, her favorite dragon book (a truly smooky tale, in her opinion), is Herb, the Vegetarian Dragon. Bears? Winnie the Pooh. Spiders? Charlotte’s Web. Monsters? Monster’s Inc. So I guess it’s pretty fair to say we do smooky, not spooky, around here.
But I’m smooked.
Something truly terrifying happened to me the other day. Little Friend and I went on a mom-daughter date to a “fancy” restaurant (Eat n’ Park, the Perkins or Bob Evans of Pittsburgh), dressed in “fancy” clothes (an obnoxious hot pink and orange tulle costume culled from a Toddler’s and Tiaras wardrobe for Little Friend accessorized by mismatched glittery white and black Mary Janes), to enjoy a “fancy” strawberry sundae. We went right before dinner. Little Friend’s Nana Nancy always says that to truly enjoy life, sometimes we should eat dessert first. We were enjoying life. Life topped with whipped cream and three (at Little Friend’s specific request) cherries on top.
Then the smooky thing happened. Little Friend set down a drippy spoon and flung her arms around my neck, “Thank you, Mama!” she breathed into my neck. Then, before I could regain my emotional balance from the staggering rush of ooey-gooey-fudge-coated love that came with the hug, her monkey arms retreated and the spoon was put back to work.
Little Friend had given me her very first unsought, unexpected hug of gratitude.
She’s growing up. The blinders of childhood narcissism are widening a bit to take in a bigger world around her, and the new responsibility I feel to guide, encourage, foster, nurture, and love this growing-more-complex-by-the-day girl has me spooked. Am I up for the challenge?
It’s easier when all that’s required of me is a diaper change, warm milk, soft arms, and ready smile. The universe can shrink to fit in the fifteen pound heft of a bundle that’s content to be hauled around in my arms.
At almost-four-years-old, the world infinitely expands. There are friendships to cultivate, school days to navigate, emotions to weather, nightmares to expel. I anticipate with trepidation the things that will go bump in the night as Little Friend grows up. Friendly vegetarian dragons they will not be.
If I can’t anticipate a pure hug of gratitude that wallops me when I’m not looking, how can I ever be prepared for bigger and scarier things?
I can’t. I can’t shelter her away from scary things. I can’t keep her stuffed in a fifteen-pound universe of simplicity. I can’t always see what’s coming before it gets here. So I take a deep breath when I’m overwhelmed by the number of options in this Choose Your Own Adventure novel that’s unraveling before me.
I savor the taste of whipped cream and strawberries.
I cherish unexpected joy wrapped in a hug.
And when she wakes up in the middle of the night, convinced that a smooky spider lurks in the corner of her dollhouse, I hold her close, limbs dangling off my lap, bury my nose in her hair, and drive away all smooky thoughts with all I can give: me, just as I am, right now, and love, love for her and the scary amazing person she’s becoming.