The last day at the mountain house, we sit on the back porch, the Small One and I, and eat cherries. The sun is low on the mountains, and it’s the time of day when the world seems benevolent and warm. I bite the cherries in half, being careful to take the seed in my half, so I can give her a seedless chunk. She’s impatient for more, but I relish the time, watching the cherry stains spread across her face and fingers.
I suddenly have the thought that this is the way I want parenting to be, but it rarely is- I always want to hand them pieces of life from which I’ve stripped the obstacles and rotten parts, and watch them enjoy themselves. The cherries I bite are sometimes not sweet, and when they’re not I throw them off the deck, so she only gets the choicest pieces. I tell her we’re throwing away the yucky cherries, and she looks at me with her trusting, not quite three year old face, and nods agreement. “We don’t like yucky cherries,” she says, “because they’re not so yummy.”
Looking into the serious eyes above the cherry stains, I have a flash of the years to come. I’m all too familiar with the difficulties ahead, having raised two other children almost to adulthood, and I want to hold her right where she is, while she still trusts me completely and loves me without reservation. I want to sit with her and listen to her say that she loves cherries because they’re red, and red is her favorite color. I want to know her favorite color. I don’t want to fight with her about tattoos and piercing and curfews, I don’t want her to assume I’m setting rules because I hate her, I don’t want to look into her face and see a hostile stranger.
I’m thinking this as she hops off her rocking chair and stubs her toe. She yelps, and I hand her a cherry half. She examines it for a minute, then looks at me and brightens up. “Thank you, Mom,” she says, “that will make me feel better.”