I am not a word snob. No. I like words of all shapes and sizes and levels of pretension. I do.
It’s just that I’ve never been a fan of the word special.
Not until last night.
Last night was big. A big night out. With Toddler.
There was a pajama party at Preschool. After missing Toddler’s pizza and pajama birthday party thanks to my untimely bout of swine, I was not going to miss this one. Because I was not sure whether little Toddler would want to be dropped off in the evening hours and left alone with her pajama-clad peers, I volunteered to work at the event so that I could be there with her. It was a grand plan.
And it was a busy day. Thursdays tend to be my busiest. I buzzed around this fine city, in and out of dates and meetings, chirping ceaselessly on my cell about real estate (we have an offer on our apartment!) and real life (my tiny newborn nephew was in the ER). Anyway, I hightailed it home in the late afternoon for my most important appointment of the day. My appointment with Toddler.
There she was, in her purple and green froggie PJs, sporting fabulous pigtails only Nanny can finagle. Her smile was vast as she ran toward me. And then we ran off to school for the festivities. We arrived in the school gym and promptly realized that the vast majority of the kids were older. There was only one little boy from her class. But Toddler, sheepish and brave, spread her orange blanket by the other kids to watch Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs.
For about thirty seconds. The volume wasn’t really sufficient and the kids were rowdy. Toddler clung to me a bit. Fellow parents started handing out pieces of pizza. One child refused pizza. Yup. Toddler.
We made our way to the little crafts table on the other side of the gym where Toddler got to work making a mask. It was one of those little black Zorro-esque masks and when she scratched the surface of the paper with a stick, rainbows appeared. Black magic. I smiled. A relic from my own childhood. When she finished her mask, she asked that I put it on her. And so I did. It was a nice complement to the pigtails. Who cared that it basically covered her eyes? Not Toddler.
Despite asking her several times if she wanted me to hold her mask in my bag, she said no. And then she declared that she wanted to make a mask to bring home to her sister. I smiled as she scratched some more black magic. And then she made a little car keychain. I asked if she wanted to watch some more of the movie and sit with the other kids, but no. She wanted to do her own thing. And she insisted on making a star keychain for her baby sister. More mommy smiles.
When she tired of the arts and crafts, she hopped up. And looked around. As much as she could through that poor-visibility mask. And then she started running around the gym, a skip in her step. I stood back and smiled. And then a fellow parent, the only dad in attendance, the only PJ-clad adult in attendance, organized a story time. And cookies emerged. Toddler cuddled on my lap and listened intently to stories. And helped herself to four cookies. A mother next to me looked over and said, Wow. And I shrugged my shoulders and muttered some mommy apology: Guess I’m a bad mom. I try, but she is not the best eater. And she loves cookies.
And then the same daddy organized a genius game of Freeze Dance. The kids bogeyed down. When the music stopped, the children did their best (and hilarious) impressions of statues. Toddler did this wacky and amazing dance where she marched like a soldier/robot and spun around in a circle. On the sidelines, I could not stop laughing. This was fun.
And then when things got a tad out of control, this inventive father miraculously got all the kids to sit in a cluster on the gym floor. He told them that they were going to have a “quiet and thoughtful time” or something like that. Remarkably, the kids obliged. The father explained that they were going to go around and that each child was to introduce him or herself and say something that made him or her special.
The kids were fantastic. One boy stood and said he was special because “he goes to the grocery store and gets stuff.” Another boy said he was special because “he is in to Star Wars.” One girl said she was special because “her brother liked Star Wars.” On the periphery, we parents chuckled. And I didn’t think savvy and sassy Toddler would be into this exercise in sharing feelings, but boy was I wrong. Each and every time, she raised not one hand, but both and stood, jumping up and down. She desperately wanted this man to call on her.
And he didn’t. Because, as is par for the course with wee ones, distraction set in and it was on to the next thing. Soon, it was time for us to leave and I scooped up my sugar-soaked and sleepy babe and we headed out.
In the lobby of her school, as I zipped her purple coat, I asked.
“Honey, what were you going to say if you were called on? What’s your something special?”
And she looked up at me, blue eyes bright through that black magic mask, and said, “I’m special because I want to share all my toys with my sister.”
And I smiled. Wow did I smile. And I suffocated her with a hug. And I pushed her pigtail from her ear and I said, “Babe, that is so so special.”
And so. It was a night. A night of moments. Moments in which I glimpsed a little person doing her thing. Moments in which I glimpsed goodness, pure and unadulterated goodness. And, for me, this was major. Monumental. Because this parenting thing? It’s a guessing game. A constant exercise in improvisation. Parenthood is a land where we so often flail and fail and wonder whether we are doing anything right.
But in that moment last night, in that series of moments, I saw it. Clear as day. I am doing something right. Something very right.
I am raising a good kid.
And so. I wanted to get this down. This little story. This big realization. Because both will fade. With time, they will lose their hue and evaporate in the good air of this good world. And I don’t want this to happen. And so. I am sorry that I am not regaling you with something spicy or something sexy today.
Today? Today I memorialize something sweet.