The girls and I were all loaded into the van. My littlest was about five. We were pulling away from the house to go, I forget where. Littlest, in all seriousness, said:
Mom, if someone stuffed me in a box, and shipped me to China, I would miss you.
I said, as solemnly as I could, that I would also miss her, and I would go to the ends of the earth to find her, and that I hoped no one would ever ship her to China.
We have some pretty poignant moments in that van.
Now, this is the same daughter who, about a year earlier, purchased sixty dollars worth of Power Puff Girl toys and paraphernalia on eBay. I forgot I had an eBay app on my iPhone when I used it to keep her occupied on a drive. So cute, I thought, when my four year old already reader kept asking “how do you spell power?” then “puff?” then “girls?” I have removed the app.
Littlest is my most quotable, and perhaps the most mischievous. Little Miss Chief, I call her. But the other two are no slouches. I have encouraged my girls to be “independent thinkers”. I have, in other words, surrendered my wits to the whims of their developing young minds. A tactical error, I think, since I suspect they are all smarter than I am.
We drive a lot. It is one of the things in my life that finally broke me – put me into freefall into the abyss late last year. With little to no money (today gas is $1.22/litre), I drive several times a day across the city for my girls. I’ve moved to an area of the city which residents and realtors describe as “revitalizing”. I could afford it, at the time.
Don’t get me wrong – I like where I am. This is more my style than the false protection of the “other” end of the city (the one that touts an atmosphere of old-style community partly through “neo-traditional” architecture – i.e. fresh, newly built, insulated versions of the homes in my neighbourhood). I feel more alive here. More real. Here, I occasionally place my bottles out on the curb for the homeless to pick up (as long as I don’t desperately need the coin). Across town, when a proposal came to light for low income housing in the area, the “community” rallied successfully to block it. I like it here. But we drive a lot.
My middle girl’s favourite game is the “bum” word game. Take a word that has “ass” in it and change it to “bum”. So, “assertive” becomes “bumsertive”; “ask” is “bumk”. We can do that for hours.
Eldest girl likes to “DJ”. She controls the streaming music from my iPhone. Now the “DJ” position has become coveted. I use it as leverage to lure my kids into the van to go to school on time.
So time spent in the van has elements of a blessing and a curse. It combines powerful elements of our little family’s life and condenses them so they fit, snugly, into that tiny, trash strewn, mobile space.
We learn life lessons together:
Mom, are we almost there? Look around you. Where are we? You tell me – are we almost there? Mom! I hate it when you do that!!!!
Or this one, which plagues my conscience:
Littlest will not buckle up. Will. NOT. After threats spoken, 1-2-3 warnings, confiscated candy (another 7:30am leverage – ok bribe – for getting them dressed and in the car on time for school), screaming, and my cursing, I return to the driver’s seat (literally if not metaphorically). Pause. Ok. I tell her:
Okay! But if we crash into something, you are going to fly through the van and go through THIS window!!!! [wildly gesticulate at windshield] And if you hit me on your way out, I’m going to be really pissed!
No discernible reaction (perhaps that’s what shocked silence can look/sound like).
Slowly, I pull away from the curb on our quiet street. Slowly. And I slam the brakes. Littlest one slides off her seat and drops her candy. She’s not hurt (whew). She gathers her candy and her dignity and grumbles as she buckles up in her seat. We drive away, physics lesson learned, and we could still be on time for school.
I’m not here to hold back. I know that story doesn’t sound good. I’m a little bit nervous to share it. But I also know that some readers are breathing a sigh of relief. What moments do we have as parents, where we wonder, is this the moment that is going to push them over the edge, ruin their childhood, and impair their adulthood?
Or, let’s face it, the less noble, I hope no one saw that.
Little one left the van with a hug and kiss for me. She did arrive on time, and she scurried off to the playground to wait for the bell. And the day unfolded as a day often does, for all of us – apparently without further incident.
Poppins took risks. But they weren’t really risky for her, because she was so sure of herself. Poppins didn’t have any kids. I’ll take her spoonful of sugar with a grain of salt. She did get away with it, didn’t she, though? She had the appearance of being conventional. That was her gift.
I’m a little rougher around the edges, you might say. But there’s a spark, maybe of kindred spirit there. But sweet little Mary Poppins is a ray of sunshine. Me, not so much.
If I could tweak that image of sweet perfection, not so pert, crisp, sure of myself, but with that core of heart, devotion – loyalty. What would that look like?
I’m not sure most people would approve of me, if they saw me for real. That’s okay, Poppins, I’ll take what they need from you. Imagination, innovation, persistence, and a clear sense of the big picture.
The rest is all me, messy van, potty mouth, baggy pants and all.